Panthers have several options in trying to build offensive line

PITT TRAINING CAMP

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Pitt's expectations are sky-high for this season, and it is clear after two days of training camp that those expectations won't be met if the offensive line doesn't develop into a consistent and cohesive unit over the next three weeks.

Pitt has only a few linemen with experience and had to practice most of the spring with their top linemen out with injuries.

Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise said the issues with the group are easily solved because he has plenty of good options to choose from -- he just is trying to make sure he gets them all as many chances as possible before the season opener.

He also said the line will not have to be great to be successful because there is so much talent at the skill positions.

"We've got some inexperience, no question," Wise said. "But we've got some good options. It is indeed inexperienced, and that's the tough thing because with new guys playing together, it takes some time for each player to really learn his role and understand how they all fit together.

"Here's the thing about the offensive line -- we have good guys behind them, we have great backs and that's the number one thing. You have to have backs and receivers and, if you have that, all the offensive line has to do is develop and play together and give maximum effort."

The starting line in camp is redshirt freshman Jordan Gibbs at left tackle, senior C.J. Davis at left guard, junior Robb Houser at center, junior John Malecki at right guard and junior Joe Thomas at right tackle.

Redshirt sophomore Jason Pinkston, who might be the most physically gifted lineman on the team, likely will work his way into the lineup at one of the tackle spots. But he is coming off an injury and isn't in top shape yet.

Pinkston has worked some with the first-team offense in the early part of camp, but Wise said yesterday that if the Panthers were playing a game this weekend the starting tackles would be Thomas and Gibbs.

"It is still Joe because Jason missed the entire spring, and so we have to be intelligent and say it is Joe, and Jordan Gibbs had every snap in the spring," Wise said. "Now it us up to Jason to have a good preseason, and we need to figure out is he a left or a right tackle. But it is on Jason, he needs to [say] 'I'm healthy, I'm committed.' There is no doubt about Jason's ability, it's does he want to be great now."

Beyond the starters and Pinkston, there are some interesting developments for backup spots.

Redshirt freshman guard Chris Jacobson, who was one of the top linemen in the country as a senior in high school, and heralded freshman Lucas Nix are pushing their way up the depth chart at guard, even though senior Dom Williams has been a starter at times in his career. Also, Wayne Jones and Jared Martin are battling for the backup center spot in a competition that likely will go the distance.

Wise said Nix, recruited as a tackle, was moved to guard because it is the position where he can get the most practice time at this point in his career and coaches would like to get him ready to play as soon as possible. Wise said having too many players is never an issue, particularly on the offensive line, but, when it comes to the games, he believes the best five should play every snap.

"I mean, you'd like to do that because, if they are any good, they don't like to and don't want to come out," Wise said. "That's a winner's mentality, and we're looking for guys who don't want to come off the field. They should hate coming off the field."


NOTES -- Today is the first day the Panthers will be allowed to go in shoulder pads, but they will not be in full pads until Saturday Also, coach Dave Wannstedt said they'll keep the split-squad practices for the next two days meaning Saturday will be the first day the entire team is together. ...Tight end Nate Byham was named to the watch list for the Mackey award.


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


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