Kansas State right tackle Dalton Risner lines up within two paces of the center position he dominated a year ago. The distance is measured in feet, so close he can extend his left arm and touch his replacement on the shoulder.
Still, Risner feels miles away from where he played last season.
Ask about his move from the middle of K-State’s offensive line, and he talks as if he crossed an ocean before settling in on the right.
“It’s a whole new world out there at tackle,” Risner said. “You get put on an island.”
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The position switch was unexpected, and Risner’s transition has been filled with twists and turns, but it appears to be paying dividends.
K-State recognized Risner as one of the team’s top offensive players in the season opener against Stanford. Then he helped the Wildcats eclipse 300 rushing yards for the first time since 2013 last week against Florida Atlantic. K-State ran the ball at will, finishing with 336 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
At this pace, right tackle may soon feel like home.
“The tackle position is a little different in pass protection,” Risner said. “There is more kick sliding and all that different stuff. Tackles do more one-on-one based work. It has been a new world, but I have accepted the challenge. I have plenty to work on, but I am excited to keep growing.”
K-State coaches think Risner has loads of potential at his new position. Funny thing is, they never intended to move him away from center. After starting all 13 games at center a year ago, Risner, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound redshirt sophomore, was viewed as the future of K-State’s offensive line.
As the lone returning starter up front, he was named captain and given leadership responsibilities. Center seemed like the perfect spot for him, and he spent the entirety of fall and summer workouts practicing there.
That changed when no one appeared capable of playing right tackle at a high level in preseason practices.
“I told coach, ‘I will go wherever you need me to go. I will play center for you, I will play guard for you, I will play tackle for you. I just want what is best for the team,’ ” Risner said. “I was at center all summer hoping a few guys would step up at tackle. That didn’t happen. (Coach) said, ‘We are going to try you out at tackle.’ I went out there and he really liked what he saw.”
Not bad considering Risner’s previous tackle experience was limited to two games in high school.
His versatility made an impression on K-State coach Bill Snyder.
“We have got to get guys to be able to play more than one position, and all of our offensive linemen do,” Snyder said. “When you are trying to get your best five linemen on the field you have the capacity to mix and match. That is what we do.”
Risner’s move set off a chain reaction of moves across the offensive line. Risner slid to right tackle and Reid Najvar took over at center, joining left tackle Scott Frantz, left guard Tyler Mitchell and right guard Terrale Johnson.
Everyone involved seemed to like the new lineup, but it lacked experience. All five players were new starters at their positions. With Will Ash replacing Mitchell last week, the Wildcats could employ another new starter against Missouri State on Saturday.
Questions remain, but Risner already seems like K-State’s most reliable blocker.
“There are certain things that pop up each week,” Snyder said. “It is a learning tool for him. He makes a mistake and he learns from it. He is pretty good at correcting mistakes.”
Risner hopes to follow in the footsteps of former K-State standout Cody Whitehair, a blocker who played guard and tackle at K-State and now plays center for the Chicago Bears.
In time, he’s confident right tackle won’t feel so far away from center.
“Coach needed me to go out there, and it has been great,” Risner said. “I didn’t have any trouble. I didn’t blame him one bit. I was excited about the opportunity to get out there on the edge. It’s been great and the offensive line is working real well together.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett