Pitt's offensive line shake-up is a power play

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Pitt's offensive line had been an area of concern coming into the season, and nothing in the first three games has eased those concerns. As a result, the staff made some personnel moves for the game Saturday against Florida International.

Junior Lucas Nix, a starter at right tackle, was moved to right guard and redshirt junior Jordan Gibbs was moved from reserve tackle to starting right tackle. The odd man out is redshirt junior Greg Gaskins, who was the starting right guard but is now a backup.

The thinking was simple -- with Nix and Gibbs as opposed to Gaskins and Nix, the Panthers are better suited to run with power.

Nix, who is more athletic and a better blocker than Gaskins, is considered to be better at pulling and trapping than Gaskins. Gibbs' size alone -- 6 feet 5 and 315 pounds -- should give him an opportunity to develop into a dominant run blocker.

Both Nix and Gibbs say they are ready for their new roles, but Gibbs admits he is still learning. He said his pass blocking will be a little bit of a work in progress, especially because he is left-handed and more comfortable playing left tackle.

"They are giving me a shot, so I am going to run with it," Gibbs said. "I've got shots before, but I kept working through it and I've just tried to get better every day. [The older guys] have really helped me through it and got me here.

"I've mostly played left tackle though, so I am still working on things at right. ... I still have to get some things down with my run blocking and with pass set. It is a little bit of a change, but not much.

"The assignments are the same, but it is just how I come off [the ball]. I'm a little bit slower on the right side, but I am going to keep working hard to get up to where I was when I was playing left."

Gibbs has the full support of his teammates, who rave about how good he is at locking down an opponent once he gets his hands on him.

But he hasn't played much in games the past two years, although he got some extended playing time during spring and training camp last year because of injuries to starters.

Starting left tackle Jason Pinkston said that Gibbs stepped in for him in spring camp when he was hurt and did an excellent job of handling standout defensive end Greg Romeus in practice.

Pinkston said that experience will help Gibbs because he isn't likely to face many players of Romeus' ability in the near future.

"He is very quick and strong. He is very powerful," Pinkston said. "He has a very strong punch. He is a very good pass blocker. I think this will help us. The coaches wanted something different and this is.

"If you look at Lucas, he is athletic enough to play inside and I think that will be a great look for us."

For his part in the shake-up, Nix said he hasn't played guard since high school, but he is looking forward to getting an opportunity to play on the inside again because it will give him a chance to be a little more physical and use his athleticism.

"We have to get the best five out on the field," Nix said. "I feel comfortable in there and I think Gibbs has looked good as well. It is not as big of a difference as I thought it would be for me. It is just a lot closer quarters and a lot quicker thinking for me. I just have a guy in front of me and I have to get my hands on him. There isn't that extra step on the outside at tackle.

"It is nice to line up and know there is pretty much just one guy in front of me who I have to run at. I like the physical aspect of it, but there are little intricacies that I need to work on."

Nix said the changes are a wake-up call to everyone on the team because it shows that nobody is secure.

He also said it shows the coaches are committed to finding the best 22 players to put on the field, and as a result, there is a little more sense of urgency among the players.

"With the way we started, it is not what we expected," Nix said. "But we're not going to let it happen all season. We're going to make changes and become the team we know we can be. We need to come out this weekend and get that run game going, for sure."

NOTES -- The only player who seems questionable to play Saturday is safety Dom DeCicco (hamstring). When asked who would start at safety coach Dave Wannstedt said he wasn't sure if it would be Jason Hendricks or DeCicco.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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