Dan France is one of the more interesting players to watch on Michigan State's football team this year.
After playing seven games on the defensive line as a red-short freshman in 2010, he has been moved to offensive tackle to add depth as well as give him a new opportunity to flourish.
It's not that France was disappointing or under-performing as a defensive linemen, but is more of a testament of the coaches trusting the abilities of the 6-foot-6, 300-pound athlete. France even said that when he was being recruited out of North Royalton High School in Ohio, he received 20 scholarship offers from colleges and about 15 of them were from coaches who wanted to convert him to offensive tackle.
â€œComing out of high school, (college coaches) wanted me at right or left tackle, so itâ€™s a big transition, but if [I] keep working at it, it should work out," France said.
The advantage for both France and his coaches is that he has plenty of time to adapt as a converted offensive tackle, citing similarities between both the offensive line and defensive line. He said it took a solid five or six practices to get used to the switch but now seems to have all the protection schemes down. Now it's just about perfecting the nuances and becoming a force against opposing attackers.
â€œI feel very comfortable (at offensive tackle) now after working at it during winter conditioning and spring (ball),â€ he said. â€œAt first I was kind of lunging at pass protection, but Iâ€™ve worked some of the kinks out. Iâ€™ve still got to work on pass blocking and run blocking and all that.â€
Moves like this can be drastic for some players, especially at the college level when they were recruited to play at a spot with which they were comfortable from pee-wee ball to high school. Even France admits that he didn't know what to expect.
"I never played O-line in high school, never pass-blocked in high school," he said. "I played basketball so Iâ€™m kind of used to using my feet like I did on defense. Playing O-line is kind of like playing defense; you just have to try to stay in front of the D-end or linebacker.â€
His attitude has been stellar in regards to trying to learn his new position and how he compares it to his former spot on the offensive line. The Academic All-Big Ten Player may prove to be even better suited as an offensive tackle as he starts to mesh with his linemates throughout the season. As of now, head coach Mark Dantonio says France is the top tackle at his position at this point in time.
â€œI think as the left tackle, France is playing well," Dantonio said. "Heâ€™s got a feel for it. The thing thatâ€™s positive about our offensive line right now is, weâ€™ve got numbers. Even though weâ€™ve got some guys banged up or something like that, weâ€™ve got numbers at that position. Itâ€™s an athletic offensive line.â€
â€œ(France is) very athletic, a 305-pound guy. Initially, when we recruited him in high school he was playing outside back at 240 (pounds). Heâ€™s a guy thatâ€™s grown, heâ€™s 6-foot-5 or whatever he is. Heâ€™s very intelligent, heâ€™s got toughness, and Iâ€™ve seen him grow every day. As a player he is blocking a lot of different fronts, a lot of different pressures, so those things add up. So thatâ€™s what you have: a great athlete playing left tackle and heâ€™s still young.â€
While France is receiving high praise from his head coach, he knows there is still plenty of work to be done to get better at the position and solidify himself as a starter at offensive tackle when the first game is played.
France said he will take the summer months to improve all aspects of his game, saying that it is more than just footwork and technique; itâ€™s about finding the guy he has to block and make sure he does his job on him.Â