This 2007 Stanford Football training camp represented something important for Matt Kopa: getting his chance. The redshirt sophomore nose tackle last fall was hampered by a hyperextended elbow suffered during the final scrimmage of the preseason, and this spring he suffered a torn PCL.
In Stanford's new 4-3 defense, the 6'6" 282-pound athlete has added depth in the interior of the defensive line, but that changed Thursday when Kopa moved to offense. The position switch was precipitated by a short conversation Wednesday night, when head coach Jim Harbaugh approached the big man about a big move.
"Coach Harbaugh asked me to play tackle. I said, 'Yeah, whatever is best for the team,'" Kopa recalls. "I can contribute a lot more at offensive tackle right now than working at D-tackle."
"Matt is doing a great job in the defensive tackle rotation," Harbaugh explains. "But you keep looking at him, and you keep seeing an offensive tackle."
Though the interior defensive line positions have been considered thin for Stanford in recent years, the outlook at offensive tackle presented during this fall camp may be more grim. A combination of injuries and slow development trajectories have the Cardinal coaches looking at Kopa to fill a need:
"Depth at tackle right away," Harbaugh answers. "The freshmen are coming along very slowly, so right now and going forward we need depth at tackle... And what's best for the team is best for Matt Kopa. You can just look at the guy, and that's an offensive tackle. We didn't have him in the spring - he got hurt very early. But the football eye says that he should be playing tackle."
Kopa's heart said that he should play defense - at least, that was his ardent feeling on the matter when being recruited out of high school. Being asked to abandon that passion and instead play offense could have made Thursday a day Kopa conducted with a heavy heart.
"I feel like it's a great thing," he retorts. "I feel like whatever is best for the team, and wherever I can get more playing time, I feel great about it. It's been a while, but I feel like once I get things down, I can start hitting. That's going to be good."
For now, it will be some slow sledding for Kopa, who is three years removed from playing offensive tackle. The 6'6" redshirt sophomore lined up Thursday at right tackle, and he saw some repetitions in team periods. He spent more time, however, talking with and listening to offensive line coach Chris Dalman.
"It was a lot of learning. Not a lot of physical stuff," Kopa describes. "I'm trying to learn and get the motions back down. It's been a while... Today I pretty much focused on stepping back into a pass rush. I feel like once I get my movements down and my technique down, that will really help me in the future."
The timing of this switch is not ideal for the former nose tackle. Stanford is just over two weeks away from its season opener versus UCLA, and Kopa was part of the interior defensive line rotation. In other words, he had prospects of seeing the field on defense. Tackling his new position, Kopa must now expect a long road ahead before he could reasonably be ready to play on Saturdays at right tackle.
"I definitely don't feel discouraged at all," he maintains. "This is going to be great for the team. I feel like it's a great move. Once I get the hang of things, this is definitely going to help the team."
"I can be a huge contributor," Kopa adds. "If this is what Coach Harbaugh wants, then I want to give it to him."
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