LARAMIE, Wyoming — Eric Nzeocha hopes the third time is a charm.
For the third consecutive season, the University of Wyoming junior has switched positions. However, Nzeocha's latest move is the most drastic of his career.
Nzeocha moved to linebacker this spring after playing tight end last season. Nzeocha started his career as a wide receiver as a redshirt freshman in 2013.
In his first season as a tight end, along with playing in a new offensive scheme, Nzeocha caught eight passes for 65 yards. He didn't catch any passes as a redshirt freshman but played on special teams.
Nzeocha is getting a look at middle linebacker this spring, along with junior Lucas Wacha. Linebacker is a position Nzeocha's never played, and he hasn't played defense since his final year of high school in Neusitz, Germany, when he played safety along with receiver.
"I'm feeling like I'm still adjusting to the speed," Nzeocha said. "It's a different kind of speed. You run after every single ball and then run back to the huddle. You have to get adjusted (to the offense) motioning and shifting, which is hard for me to get into, but I'm going to get it."
UW moved Nzeocha to linebacker because three of its four leading tacklers from there were seniors last season. A lack of experience, depth and athleticism at all three linebacker spots prompted UW to move three players to linebacker this spring.
At 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds (as of last season's roster), Nzeocha has the size and speed UW is looking for at linebacker. He is light in terms of weight to play middle linebacker at this level of college football, but he makes up for it with his height and ability to move around in open space.
Nzeocha said he still has a lot to learn, but is confident he can do it. After a little more than a week of spring practice, there are a few things Nzeocha is starting to get the hang of.
"I have the instinct of breaking up passes ... like going up to get the ball when I was a receiver," Nzeocha said.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Steve Stanard also has seen some encouraging things from Nzeocha, but also knows there's a long way to go.
"He's really trying hard," Stanard said. "As he gets more and more confident, I think he has the ability to be a really physical guy. The big question is what he can do in a scrimmage when he gets 30 or 40 snaps.
"But he has potential. He has decent vision, and is decent at seeing the field. The big thing for him learning where to put his eyes and follow his progressions."
UW's first scrimmage of the spring is at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Nzeocha is getting plenty of coaching from Stanard and the rest of the defensive staff, but he also has someone else he turns to daily for help - older brother Mark Nzeocha.
Mark was an outside linebacker for the Cowboys last season and was fourth on the team with 59 tackles despite missing the final five games with a knee injury. He also led UW with five pass breakups.
Mark is now in southern California training for the upcoming NFL Draft. Mark also knew about changing positions as he played both safety and linebacker with the Cowboys.
"He's been a great help. He knows the defense really well," Eric Nzeocha said of his brother. "Even though he played strong-side linebacker, he knows what the middle linebacker does.
"He makes me feel better about myself. He tells me I'm going to get corrected, and I'm going to get yelled at, but that I can still do it."
Nzeocha said he hopes he has found a permanent home at linebacker with the Cowboys, but after some hesitation he hasn't shut the door on the possibility of another move.
"Maybe a different linebacker position," he said with a smile. "But I think I'm good right now."
Stanard said if all goes well with Nzeocha and senior walk-on Devin McKenna in the middle, Wacha could be moved to weak-side linebacker, his natural position.
Sophomore Tim Kamana, who played safety last season, is now a strong-side linebacker in nickel situations when UW wants to get more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.
Stanard said the strong-side linebacker and strong safety in UW's 4-3 scheme aren't that different.
"That's a better place for (Kamana)," Stanard said.
Kamana was UW's most experienced safety coming back from last year.
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com