HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall defensive tackle Steve Dillon has had to overcome practicing but still sitting out games his freshman year as a partial qualifier.
He has had to overcome the usually physical deficit a young player faces, and must rectify, in the weight room. Shoot, the Californian still clocks in at about 263 pounds and wants to make it to 275.
But Dillon and many other tackles in college football have another major obstacle - a move from end. Think about it: More than a few linemen catch the eye of college coaches while playing at end in high school.
Dillon started his MU career in the fall of 2011 as an end and that lasted about a week. Inside he went, apparently for good.
Now a third-year sophomore, Dillon has been riding with the first unit along with the elder statesman of the tackles, Brandon Sparrow. With Marques Aiken taking his MU degree and transferring to Cincinnati and James Rouse still held out of contact, this is the spring for Dillon to get the game down pat.
"It took a lot of change in how to get the feel of it," Dillon said. "I was so uncomfortable to where, like, in my stance I would jump and look at the man in front of me instead of actually attacking the guy."
J.C. Price, who is sharing line coaching duties with Sean Cronin and zeroing in on the tackles, knows whereof Dillon speaks. Price has lived it himself.
"It's very tough. It's actually a transition I made when I was a player," said Price, a defensive standout at Virginia Tech in the 1990s. "The biggest thing you have to realize is how fast everything happens in there. You don't have as much time to see things.
"You've really got to get rep after rep until it's muscle memory and you can just react to what's going to happen. Things happen really fast in there - a lot faster than it does at end."
The development of the tackle spots is critical to Marshall improving on its grim defensive numbers of 2012, which includes a yield of 203 rushing yards per game. Depth was an issue behind juniors Sparrow and Aiken.
Dillon was a redshirt freshman, as was Jarquez Samuel. Junior-college import Ken Smith fought hard to overcome an injury, played a bit and returns for his s.enior year.
And the Herd had a new defensive line coach for yet another year. Price has broken a long string of "one and gone" D-line coaches, and Cronin has returned to the MU staff to concentrate on the ends.
"I think you've got to get to the point where you've got some continuity, and they're hearing the same things over and over, so things become second nature," Price said.
The tackle depth chart will be shuffled again in the fall, but that should be a good thing for the Herd. For starters, 2012 nonqualifier Josh Brown will become eligible in May.
And Rouse, performing individual drills this spring, is expected back after playing three games in the last two years. The senior's return could be as welcomed as the just-approved Indoor Athletic Facility.
"Coming out of last spring, we thought if he wasn't the best defensive player we had, he was up there," Price said. "We had high hopes for him, and then he hurt himself. He was on track to get back and he got injured again.
"He's a guy who's been snakebitten the whole time he's been here, and now we're trying to get him to the track."