He's played football all his life, but at Bills rookie minicamp this past weekend Mark Asper spent more time at center than he has in all his previous years in football combined.
"It's the most live snaps I've taken there in my entire life," said Asper. "I think I did a good job adjusting to it.
Asper played in 47 games in college at Oregon, but all of his playing time came at guard and tackle. Buffalo's scouting staff was convinced however, that center was a position Asper was more than capable of handling after he volunteered to play it at a postseason all-star game in Arkansas this past winter.
The four practices this past weekend however, proved to be the key testing ground. Asper admitted it was an adjustment.
"Day one it was all I could do to think about getting the ball to the quarterback and thinking about the plays and footwork and the defense and that stuff wasn't really happening," he said. "I had some narrow tunnel vision, but as the days went on I didn't have to think about the snap, it became automatic, so I could start looking to see where the defensive tackles were and then I could see where the linebackers were. The last day I felt real comfortable to see what the whole defense was doing."
Buffalo's offensive staff kept things relatively basic with respect to the scheme, snap counts and quarterback cadence, but Asper by all accounts made progress.
"It's a new position for him, but I think he looks very comfortable," said offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris.
"Coach 'D' is a real good coach and he let me know that he wouldn't be asking me to do these things if he didn't think I could do it," said Asper. "I did a pretty good job with it I think."
D'Alessandris had to emphasize the communication aspects of the center position to Asper. Having played in the high-speed offense at Oregon the past four years it was somewhat of a foreign concept.
"He told me, 'Quit doing that Oregon stuff!' At Oregon we had that fast, fast tempo and nobody said anything to anybody. Everybody just had to know what they were supposed to do because there was no time to communicate with each other. It was one word, one call and everybody adjusted on the fly," Asper said. "Here he wants it to be just that fast, but you have to say what you do.
"So I would know what I was supposed to do, but initially it was hard to think and tell the guard, 'Hey I'm going to work with you to that linebacker.' I would just do it and he would say, 'You've got to tell him. Everyone else has to know what's going on. You've got to open your mouth.' That's maybe been the biggest adjustment."
Asper believes having played guard and tackle in college has helped him more quickly understand the blocking assignments of his linemates within the scheme. It also helped him transition to the other interior line positions when called upon this past weekend.
"On Saturday we were limited on bodies a little bit and he asked me to flip over to left guard. I just fit right in," he said. "Then on Sunday I played a little at right guard and left guard and it was seamless."
That kind of versatility is going to give Asper a solid opportunity to push some of the veteran interior linemen that also offer guard-center ability.
Right now Asper is just focused on his own game, but he was encouraged by the way he was able to perform coming in cold at the center spot.
"I've played football for a long time so I know if you have a bad snap or a bad play or something happens there's another one about to happen in 25 to 40 seconds so don't wasted too much time beating yourself up," he said. "Only let one bad play be one bad play, not two bad plays. Overall it felt good."