Pitt OL Gets Retooled

While the quarterbacks were in the spotlight during the first practice for the Pitt football team Tuesday afternoon, Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt also noted that the offensive line situation might be more important because at least the team has several players with some experience at quarterback.

On the offensive line, Pittsburgh lost three senior starters from last fall -- the center and both tackle spots -- and has a new position coach in long-time NFL assistant and Wannstedt friend, Tony Wise.

"We've got two or three offensive lineman that haven't played, but will have to be major contributors,'' Wannstedt said. "And Coach Wise, everybody will have to prove themselves, but it's going to be fun to watch that group develop.

"We've got no depth charts now, but we'll determine that as we wind down the spring. The offensive line, that's probably the biggest uncertainty right now, because we graduated three out of five (starters).''

Wannstedt can say that there's no depth chart, but Panther Digest formed one during the first spring practice. Redshirt freshman Jordan Gibbs (6-foot-7) at left tackle, fifth-year senior Dominic Williams (6-4) at left guard, redshirt junior John Bachman (6-4) at center, junior John Malecki (6-3) at right guard and junior Joe Thomas (6-5) at right tackle.

"We moved (Malecki) to the offensive line,'' Wannstedt said, "and he'll get a chance to get right in there with the first group at guard. He'll be running with the first team, and it's really his job to lose. We're very young on the offensive line. I believe we have some good, young talent, but John can bring some toughness and some game experience. And that's needed right now.''

Wise, with 35 years experience in the NFL and collegiate ranks exclusively as an offensive line coach except for his first season out of college in 1973, also has a talented second group to work with. That unit included redshirt freshman Greg Gaskins (6-4) at left tackle, redshirt freshman John Fieger (6-5) at left guard, junior Robb Houser (6-2) at center, redshirt sophomore Alex Karabin (6-1) at right guard and redshirt freshman Dan Matha (6-6) at right tackle.

Keep in mind that the Panthers have some talent sitting out this spring as well due to various injuries and surgeries. Fifth-year senior tackle Chase Clowser (6-7), shoulder, senior left guard C.J. Davis (6-3), a three-year starter, left hamstring; redshirt sophomore Jason Pinkston (6-4), a starter last year, shoulder; and five-star redshirt freshman guard Chris Jacobson (6-3), knee.

"It might not be a good answer, but it's the best I can tell you,'' Wise said. "It's still a work in progress with those young guys, but the potential certainly is there. At center, we need a lot of work with Robb Houser and John Bachman being thrust in there. And then there's the young tackles. We have a lot of talent on our offensive line, but we need to get them some experience.

"And how could you not be excited about the situation here. There's a lot of talent. The offensive line is not a one-man show, so you need to put a group together and take it from there. With the running backs that we have, they need to play together and hold their blocks just long enough.''

Wise certainly will have his work cut out for him, because Pitt's offensive line was its most-maligned unit throughout the season. Injuries and inconsistent play hampered it from the outset, but the group rebounded late to play pretty well together and play a part in leading tailback LeSean McCoy to 1,328 rushing yards, a 4.8-yard average and 14 touchdowns.

"The level of play had nothing to do with me wanting to come here or not,'' Wise said. "That was up to Dave. But I already knew guys on the staff like Brian Angelichio and Matt Cavanaugh, and of course I have a familiarity with the City of Pittsburgh. So, I was glad that Dave wanted me to be part of this.

"These young players have some talent, but it's the old saying ... we've got to find the best five guys and get them out there. That's tough right now with the guys that are hurt, C.J., Jason and Chris, but we'll have everybody ready to go in the fall. And then we'll see things take shape.''

There might even be a difference at Pitt's second spring practice Thursday at 2:45 p.m. at the UPMC Sports Complex.

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