TAMPA — Erik Lorig spent the better part of the past five months learning the Bucs' defensive playbook.
But he hasn't picked one up in more than two weeks.
Lorig, drafted this year in the seventh round from Stanford, came to Tampa Bay as a defensive end and worked exclusively there through the entire offseason and training camp. …
Until late last month, when coaches began mulling the idea of using Lorig sporadically on offense, a process that has evolved into Lorig playing there full time as a tight end and fullback.
It's rare to see a player make such an ambitious change at a level of football this sophisticated. So what makes Lorig, 6 feet 4, 275 pounds, so capable of this? And why is it necessary, anyway?
There once was a time when Lorig, 23, could envision himself playing nothing but offense, back when he was one of the nation's top tight end prospects, a Parade All-American at Peninsula High in Palos Verdes, Calif.
"I was … a (two-way) recruit out of high school," he said. "I used to watch NFL games and watch the tight ends when I was in high school. I watched (Colts All-Pro) Dallas Clark a lot."
Lorig played two seasons as a blocking tight end at Stanford (catching just three passes as a sophomore) before being asked to move to defensive end because of a shortage there. But Lorig never forgot his offensive roots, occasionally lining up in the backfield as a blocking back. And when it came time to pursue an NFL career, Lorig was sure to alert teams to his offensive ability.
"I felt like that if I kept (my offensive skills) up, some day it might pay off," he said. "When I was trying to package myself coming into the draft, I definitely told teams. And they knew it because there was a lot of game film from my first two years playing tight end. I told them I was happy to do both."
Now the Bucs are taking him up on the offer. Knowing he faced long odds of immediately seeing the field as a defensive end because of a logjam at the position, the Bucs periodically used Lorig on the offensive scout team during practice. That's when they began to take the notion of him playing offense seriously.
"It was time to experiment," coach Raheem Morris said.
"(Offensive coordinator) Greg Olson looked at him, and he wanted to steal him full time."
The move might fast-track Lorig's effort to get playing time. The Bucs certainly aren't wasting any time, working extensively with him during the bye week.
He spent last week hunkered down with tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts and practiced as a tight end. This week, he's spending all of his time with running backs coach Steve Logan and learning the intricacies of the fullback position. And in whatever little time remains, Lorig is cramming with the offensive playbook.
That's the key.
"First and foremost, it's about getting comfortable with the playbook," he said. "It's not just learning the (terminology), but conceptually understanding what's going on."
Though this is still something of an experiment, the Bucs are quite serious about it. Lorig could play as soon as Sunday against the Bengals.
"You'll have to spot play him, obviously," Roberts said. "But you put a little package in for him and get him going."
Said Olson: "If we feel good about it, we'll get him up and see if he can help us out in terms of what we're doing with the running game and the ability to block."
That's where the Bucs hope the move pays off.
Even while they begin tinkering with the personnel at running back, they're also looking at ways to help the running game.
As a tight end, Lorig could add some aggression on the perimeter, where the Bucs have been unable to have success running the ball. And his presence at fullback gives the Bucs some options, including using fullback Earnest Graham as a tailback or using Lorig in short-yardage situations — one of his specialties at Stanford.
There is another benefit: Lorig will provide the Bucs some flexibility when deciding who to make active on game day.
"He gives you a four-phase guy on special teams, which is about 25 plays a game," Morris said. "And if he gives you anything at fullback or anything at tight end or anything at D-end, you have a pretty dynamic player that creates a lot of value for you."
So what does a guy who already has worked at three positions in his first year of pro football consider himself?
"I'm just a football player."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377.