PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- For Kaleb Johnson, the hardest part is re-learning to kick-slide.
The run blocking comes easy. And flipping all the plays in his head mentally isn't too tough a task. But the shuffling and sliding of the feet has been a hurdle for the rising sophomore as he flips from right to left tackle -- getting the footwork down to pass protect against those elusive pass rushers.
"It's not as easy as I thought it was going to be," Johnson said of the switch following Rutgers' second training camp practice. "I thought it was just going to be switching and flipping the plays in my head, but it's a lot more to it that. Technique-wise, I had to learn my kick-slide all over again. I had to start over from the beginning -- just flipping it. This is going to be a critical training camp for me as a player mentally and physically."
He's going into it without any spring ball preparation. Sitting out spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, all Johnson could do was watch.
"Unfortunately, not having the spring to get oiled up so to speak, that's never a positive," head coach Kyle Flood said. "But he's got a pretty quick learning curve, and we're optimistic he's going to be good."
During his rehab he sought out Rutgers' most experienced lineman, R.J. Dill. The transfer from Maryland started 33 games with the Terps. He'd also switched from right to left tackle midway through his redshirt sophomore year. He was the perfect person for Johnson to turn to.
So throughout the summer, Johnson used Dill as a mentor.
"Just his experience and techniques and things like that ... helped me a lot," Johnson said of Dill. "Just sitting down and watching NFL film with him, just looking at some of the greats, and I feel like that's going to help me a lot."
From watching the likes of Jake Long, Johnson studied the details of the left tackle position, picking up on techniques he hopes to use himself.
But the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder has already began to make a name for himself in his own right. After an impressive freshman season the Football Writers Association of America named him a Freshman All-American, an accolade he appreciates but has already moved on from.
"I try to look forward," Johnson said. "That's a thing of the past, and I'm trying to take 'freshman' off of the All-American."
Clearly Johnson has the physical strength and natural ability to do so. Now it's about putting it all together on the blind side.
"It's basically starting over, he said, "because I took so much time just learning all the different techniques at the right side, and now I have to flip it in my head and in my body."
Fortunately for the Jacksonville, Fla. native, he has three-and-a-half more weeks to do so before Rutgers heads to New Orleans to take on Tulane.
Plus, as his mentor Dill says, Johnson's individual performance isn't nearly as crucial as how all five of the linemen execute as one.
"We look at it as we're a group, and we have to perform as a group," he said. "It doesn't matter what one individual does. It matters what we do as a group -- as a unit."