This past spring, as Brandon Fusco first started to make the conversion from right guard to left, his most challenging opponent was not defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd or big nose tackle Linval Joseph, but muscle memory.
Sometimes when Fusco would rocket out of his stance, his body would have plans of its own after years of practice rep after rep after rep.
“It’s just the balance of your stance and how you get out of those stances, and keeping your weight on the inside of [your other] foot. It’s just different technique,” Fusco said. “It’s basically everything you learn on the right is opposite on the left. It’s something you have to get used to.”
Months later, in the simmering afternoons of late July and early August, Fusco said he has felt more and more comfortable at his new position every day. Slowly and steadily he has been able to fend off that muscle memory.
It also helps that the 27-year-old has fully recovered from the torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2014 season three games in.
“I’ve really had no problems so far,” he said. “Health-wise, I feel great. Nothing is bothering me. So I’m ready to go and I’m excited.”
The Vikings have cited a couple of reasons for moving Fusco, who had become one of the NFL’s better right guards before his injury, over to the left. One is that they felt young linemen such as T.J. Clemmings and Austin Shepherd would be better off if they remained on the right side. Another reason is that they hope Fusco will help Matt Kalil get back on track.
Kalil was one of the league’s worst left tackles in pass protection in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. And while the onus is on Kalil to simply perform better, there may be something to the belief that the struggles of last year’s left guard, Charlie Johnson, made Kalil look worse than he was.
“Teams are going to see if a certain side can’t pick up a game or a stunt and they’re just going to keep attacking it,” Fusco said. “I think that was the case last year and we have to do a better job this year. We need to be on the same page when we’re feeling those stunts out, and it starts here in practice.”
As Fusco finished that sentence, Kalil walked past and slapped his backside.
If Fusco can successfully make the switch to the left, Kalil and the Vikings will certainly benefit. And while the transition literally came with initial missteps, Fusco believes he will be used to his new position by Week 1.
“I don’t think it is going to be a difficult transition for me at all,” he said.