Aliquippa's Hollins to start for Panthers

PITT FOOTBALL

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With Pitt now turning its focus to the season opener Sept. 3 against Buffalo, one of the biggest surprises to come out of training camp was the makeup of the offensive line.

After a camp-ending scrimmage Saturday, head coach Todd Graham penciled in redshirt sophomore Juantez Hollins as the starter at left tackle.

Hollins, from Aliquippa, is big (6 feet 5, 305 pounds) and athletic and clearly looks the part, but he has yet to play in a game and was somewhat of an afterthought when camp began.

But Graham said that Hollins worked extremely hard and took advantage of every opportunity he got to play with the first team in practices and scrimmages.

With Hollins the starter at left tackle, senior Jordan Gibbs moves to right tackle and senior Lucas Nix slides over from right tackle to guard. The other two starters -- center Ryan Turnley and left guard Chris Jacobson -- have consistently manned those spots for most of camp.

"We are excited about the development of the offensive line," Graham said. "Juantez Hollins had a really good scrimmage. We have good competition there. I like how we are developing our depth. [Hollins] is our starter right now. We went into the scrimmage with [Greg] Gaskins as the starter but came out with Hollins.

"Right now I feel like Hollins is a little ahead from a run blocking standpoint, while Gaskins is a little bit ahead from a pass blocking standpoint. The good thing about that, we feel good about where those guys' development is. [Hollins as the starter] is how we will rep it all week.

"The two-deep is pretty much set and now we are working toward [the opener]."

Now that the Panthers have begun to work on their game plan for the Bulls, there isn't likely to be much, if any, more movement on the depth chart.

Gaskins will be the third tackle, which means he is the first tackle off the bench, and the first guard off the bench will be redshirt sophomore Cory King, who until about a week ago was the starting right guard. Jacobson will be the backup center.

Other spots that needed to be settled in the scrimmage included inside linebacker, receiver, punter and running back. But the biggest one was at backup quarterback where freshman Trey Anderson has been working mostly with the second team. But Graham said redshirt freshman Mark Myers still is in the mix.

"It has been an interesting battle at quarterback with Mark and Trey, and we still haven't settled where we are at there," Graham said. "Both of those guys are still taking reps, and we'll settle on that by the end of the week. I really like how both of those guys are competing."

Graham didn't offer much clarity at inside linebacker either, except to say there are three starters: redshirt sophomore Shane Gordon and seniors Tristan Roberts and Max Gruder.

Gruder definitely will be one starter, Graham said, with the other one being a week-to-week decision based on the opponent and which player is performing better.

Also, redshirt freshman Todd Thomas nailed down the starting spur linebacker spot, and a trio of freshmen, running backs Malcolm Crockett and Corey Davis and receiver Ronald Jones, solidified their places in the rotation at their respective positions.

"We got to look at a lot of young guys [in the scimmage]," Graham said. "Probably the star of the scrimmage was Ronald Jones. He looked really good, he did some great things. He had six catches and a punt return for a touchdown. It was impressive.

"And Crockett has been steady. He is ready to play, he is not running like a freshman. And Corey Davis is explosive and can do some good things, and he is going to play. The young guys really shined."

At punter, redshirt sophomore Matt Yoklic "boomed" a number of kicks according to Graham and proved he can consistently change field position. Yoklic had been the leader for the spot since the spring, but it wasn't until the past week or so that he showed the consistency coaches were expecting from him.


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


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