Offensive line needs to steadily improve


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If there is anything that was learned from Pitt's Blue-Gold game it is that the Panthers' offense can be pretty good -- provided the quarterbacks have protection and time to throw.

That is the message that coaches were hoping to send and, judging from the way the offense moved the ball the entire night, it is a message that was sent loud and clear.

That's a big step forward from last year when there were times the offense would play against air at practice -- and air would seemingly win.

And while the defense Saturday wasn't playing as aggressively as a defense will during the season, it at least provided some resistance. The offense, however, was able to play with confidence and make plenty of plays.

The performance by the offense was best described by guard John Malecki as "the kind of confidence boost you need going into the offseason."

"For us, the key was to try and jell this spring, just try to find a little confidence and a little rhythm," Malecki said. "We had some people who were new and we know we have a great defense, but we also know we're not as far behind as it may have looked during camp. We just needed to come together a little bit and it is exciting for us that we are able to a little bit tonight."

The offense won the scrimmage but it clearly has a lot of work to do in order to get to where it can be productive on a consistent basis and it starts with Malecki and the guys up front.

Saturday, the unit did play better -- but again, the defense wasn't doing much blitzing and wasn't putting much pressure on the quarterbacks.

Still, the unit did create a lot of running lanes, which is something it hadn't done in the past and it did do a good job in picking up first downs in short yardage.

Also, coaches expect the unit to get a boost when starting tackle Jason Pinkston and starting guard C.J. Davis return for preseason camp. And there should be a little more depth with the return of redshirt freshmen Dan Matha and Chris Jacobson and true freshman Lucas Nix.

"I think the key for us is to keep working hard," Malecki said. "We start our offseason now and we know what we need to do in order to improve. We can get there and we will get there. Like I said, we gained some confidence tonight and we're going to get some guys back who will help out as well. We are all committed to it and that is what really counts."

The good news coming from the spring game is that if the offensive line does continue to improve, there is a whole lot of talent at the skill positions. The Panthers' offense will clearly have the ability to become an explosive unit.

Pitt coaches also will be left with a lot of tough decisions about the depth chart. There are a number of young talented players who have made a strong case for playing time this spring.

The most notable ones are redshirt freshman tailback Shariff Harris, redshirt freshmen linebackers Tristan Roberts, Brandon Lindsey and Greg Williams, sophomore receiver Maurice Williams and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Myles Caragein.

And that doesn't take into account the quarterback position, where redshirt junior Bill Stull is being pushed by sophomore Pat Bostick and dynamic junior-college transfer Greg Cross. Redshirt sophomore Kevan Smith is also in the mix but, because he lacks experience, is probably still a little behind that group, though he is probably the most physically gifted of the veterans.

"It is a good problem to have," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said of all of the choices he and his staff will have to make in the offseason when filling out a depth chart at key positions.

"I think the key is we have a lot of depth at a lot of positions and by the time the season comes, it will all sort itself out. We have a lot of work to do but we have had a good spring and that gets us headed in the right direction."


Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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