After three games of having Greg Gaskins at right guard, Dave Wannstedt had seen enough. Though Gaskins took every rep with the first team going back to the start of spring football, Wannstedt feels the offensive line needed a bit of a change to give the group a more physical look to it.
Though he clarified that this move was not made because of one individual, Gaskins is the odd man out now. Lucas Nix slides over one spot to right guard. Jordan Gibbs--a redshirt junior--will come in to start at right tackle. Gaskins will be Nix's backup at right guard.
"I hate sometimes when you make a change at one position when you're struggling as a group," Wannsteddt said. "It's not an indication that it's one individual or one position."
The decision boils down to two things. One, Nix is arguably the most versatile offensive lineman; either him or Jason Pinkston. With Pinkston firmly entrenched at left tackle--and nothing close to a viable option in replacing Pinkston at that position, the line is served better by juggling the right side. If there were any two linemen that could make a switch with ease, because of athleticism and experience, Nix and Pinkston would have the easiest transition because of their abilities.
In the case of Gibbs, it was a matter of him being persistent, and pushing his way into starting role through some of the work he's done this year. Gibbs has played in the last 16 games for Pitt, and saw significant time at left tackle in the fourth quarter against Miami. Gibbs was also a third tight end in certain situations through this early season, a move that showed the coaching staff‘s willingness to get him involved early on.
"We've been talking about our offensive line, and is there anything we can do," Wannstedt added. "Has there been an individual, or an individual or two that have been working hard, that deserve an opportunity to get out there and play? Jordan Gibbs would fall in to that category."
With Nix inside, combined with Chris Jacobson, the Panthers' line already has a more physical look to it. As Wannstedt talked about it, it became clear what he didn't see from the right guard position with Gaskins, that he believes he can see with Nix.
"The biggest adjustment is that, with some of our plays--our sweeps, our screens, our powers--the guard has to do some pulling," Wannstedt said. "If the guy is not athletic enough, it wouldn't work. In Lucas' case, he's one of the better athletes we have on the offensive line, behind Jason (Pinkston).
"He was doing fine (at right tackle). We think he's progressed. Because of his athletic ability, and his intelligence, we're very confident that he'll be able to make that transition (to guard), and we'll be able to be better. If we didn't think we can improve, we wouldn't have done it."
This also isn't a move that the staff is testing out, just this week. Wannstedt admitted this is something they have toyed around in practice in recent weeks.
"The last couple of weeks, Tony Wise has been mixing him in at guard; not a lot," Wannstedt said. "If you talk to most tackles that get moved inside to guard, you're in a box now. It's a little easier from a pass protection standpoint; you got help on both sides."
Heading into the spring last year, Wannstedt said that Ryan Turnley would start off at right guard. That all changed by the first day of spring practice, as Gaskins entered as the first-team right guard, as Turnley sat out with a hand injury. Turnley's development was halted. Had he been able to compete in the spring, Pitt would at least have another body capable of starting, or at least contributing.
If there was going to be a new face in the lineup, it was going to be Gibbs based on what he's done in practice, according to Wannstedt. However, Turnley still has some hope of fitting in somewhere, soon. The only question mark with Turnley, it seems, is with his durability.
"He's never had a month where he's been healthy enough," Wannstedt said. "He played most of the New Hampshire game when Jacobson got hurt."
If there's one player that Wannstedt would love to hit a fast-forward button, to get him in the game, it's Jack Lippert. It doesn't seem that he's comfortable with Lippert going in yet. However, there have been few up-and-coming players on the line, none have been mentioned during a season, as much as Lippert. Even with Nix two years ago as a true freshman, Wannstedt wasn't ready at the time to bring him up and start him. He has been very vocal this year, about trying to get Lippert ready to go.
"We'd like to get Jack Lippert some playing time," Wannstedt said. "Center is not a position that you can rotate guys in and out because of the rhythm with the quarterback, and the snap count. You'd really be hurting your team more than helping your team by doing that. Jack's a guy that we would like to get more work."
Right away, this position switch gives the guard position a more physical, athletic look to it. If it works, the staff coaching staff deserves credit for being proactive, making a switch just three games in. If Nix can prove something out of this, it will be his versatility and perhaps some more marketability for postseason accolades and NFL status, that was expected when he committed to the Panthers. Wannstedt cautions, though, it's one move at a time, and it's not a definitive change for the rest of the season.
"It wasn't one individual," Wannstedt said. "I think we want to take a look at this lineup, and see if this doesn't give us the best five at this time."