Catalyst for likely changes plus not minus for Pitt
October 19, 2011 4:00 AM
The road back to the lineup has begun for Lucas Nix, but at what position will it end?
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There could be more changes on Pitt's offensive line for the game next Wednesday against Connecticut, this time because of good health news.
Guard Lucas Nix, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury, is close to being medically cleared to return.
Coach Todd Graham said Tuesday that Nix is back at practice and, while he is not at full speed, he is able to get some work each day and go through mental repetitions.
The question is where Nix will play. He has played guard this season but also the team's best tackle. Given the struggles the Panthers have had at that position, it is likely he will return to tackle and push redshirt freshman Matt Rotheram to guard.
Graham said the coaches have not sorted it out, but Rotheram, who made his first career start and played right tackle Saturday against Utah, played well enough to remain in the lineup as one of the five starting linemen.
"We're looking forward to having Lucas back, we are working him back in slowly," Graham said. "We'll kind of see [what position Nix plays]. I thought Rotheram had a good game but we're in the process of game-planning still. [Nix] got some mental reps at both tackle and guard, so it will depend on the matchups we have, where he fits in.
"He'll either be at tackle and Rotheram at guard, or vice versa."
Graham said that with Nix back, the five best offensive linemen are Nix, Rotheram, center Ryan Turnley and tackle Jordan Gibbs. The other guard is Ryan Schlieper or Cory King, depending on coaches' evaluations week to week.
"There is no doubt that Rotheram is going to start," Graham said. "He gave up a couple [defensive plays] off of the edge, but for his first game [he did well]. He is a big man and as he starts to be comfortable, he is an aggressive kid, he is a kid that will get more physical as we go."
Pitt defensive tackle Chas Alecxih apologized for post-game remarks Saturday about Utah offensive lineman John Cullen and his Utah teammates. Alecxih called Cullen a cheap-shot artist and said the Utes, who beat the Panthers, 26-12, are a dirty team.
Alecxih said Tuesday he regretted letting his emotions boil over, although he did not actually apologize to Cullen or Utah.
"I want to apologize for some of my comments after the game," Alecxih said. "I was pretty fired up and I'm a pretty emotional guy at times and I have a tendency to say what's on my mind without thinking of the consequences."
The offensive line is not the only unit Graham has had to change because of banged-up players. The secondary was hit with a key injury against the Utes.
Starting bandit safety Jason Hendricks has an undisclosed injury to his arm, and Graham said it is severe enough that Hendricks is "doubtful" for the Connecticut game. He said that the Panthers will not elevate freshman Lafayette Pitts unless there is another injury because they want him to maintain his redshirt status.
"Andrew Taglianetti [will start] and Brandon Ifill will [combine to] handle the bandit position," Graham said.
"We don't want to burn LaFayette's redshirt. ... We think we can get it done with those two guys.
"Hopefully, we can get Jason back, I am really sad for him. He was really playing his best football, and that's a big loss for us."
One development that might help ease the loss of Hendricks is that spur linebacker Todd Thomas (knee) could return to face the Huskies. He is capable of filling some of Hendricks duties as well as some at the nickel-back position, which usually is Taglianetti's role.
• Game: Pitt (3-4, 1-1 Big East) vs. Connecticut (3-4, 1-1), Heinz Field.