Pitt Football: Experience has edge at left guard

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Pitt redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson was hoping to use the scrimmage Saturday to push him over the top in his battle with senior Joe Thomas for the starting left guard spot.

Jacobson had done well to pull even with Thomas this camp, but the job remains one of the few in which a clear starter has not emerged.

It appears as if Jacobson still has some work to do. That doesn't necessarily mean he won't be the starter Sept. 5 when the Panthers play Youngstown State in their opener at Heinz Field.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said that the competition between Thomas and Jacobson will continue at least through this week because the two are so close.

"Physically they are really very, very close," Wannstedt said. "Chris is still making some inexperience mistakes that Joe has not made. So in my mind it is a little bit like [safeties] Andrew Taglianetti and Elijah Fields, they are both starters, they are both capable, but if we were playing tonight, Joe Thomas would probably be the starter.

"But we have two weeks before we play so we will see, but Joe had a good scrimmage and it really right now is just experience versus inexperience."

Fields, by the way, has fallen behind Taglianetti for the starting safety spot next to Dom DeCicco. But like the left guard spot, Wannstedt said there will be an ongoing competition at that safety spot.

Jacobson, a Keystone Oaks High School graduate who was one of the highest-rated linemen in the nation coming out of high school, said he knows he has made progress during this camp and feels more comfortable with his assignments every day.

But he is also realistic and knows that he needs to continue to cut down on the mental mistakes he has made if he wants to be the starter.

"I'm just doing the best I can do to prove myself to coaches every day," Jacobson said. "I know it is a competition and that is what it is all about here at camp. I feel like I am progressing every day.

"You can't really look at the fact that he's been here longer. I look at it as I have to try to be better than him. I can't look at his experience, he's started three years so he has that edge on me. And [offensive line] coach [Tony Wise] told me the only thing he has over me is experience and they are happy with how I've improved every day."

One other player who made a move Saturday is freshman tailback Ray Graham, who appeared to pull away from redshirt freshman Chris Burns and into the top two with freshman Dion Lewis. But Wannstedt made it clear that, like safety and left guard, the competition is far from over and all three are still in the mix.

Graham, however, was the star of the scrimmage (he rushed for 128 yards and ran for two touchdowns, and caught a 24-yard screen pass for a touchdown) Saturday and so, at least for a day or two, he has jumped into the tailback rotation.

"[Lewis and Graham] would be the two guys who, in all honesty, would give us the best chance to win right now," Wannstedt said.

NOTES -- Redshirt sophomore defensive end Tony Tucker continues to be a no-show, citing personal reasons. He has missed the past six days of camp. "He's been excused," Wannstedt said. "I don't know if it is going to work out or not, there are some personal issues that are going on with him and we are trying to help him in any way that we can. He is definitely welcome back, but something is going to have to happen pretty quick." ... Redshirt junior Nate Nix (Thomas Jefferson) moved from linebacker to defensive end. ... Redshirt sophomore defensive end Justin Hargrove injured his ankle in the scrimmage and will be out for at least two weeks. ... Tackle Lucas Nix (leg infection), defensive end Shayne Hale (headaches) and tight end Dorin Dickerson (hamstring) returned to practice. ... Redshirt junior Dan Hutchins has won the punter's job.

Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com .


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