O-line Depth A Work In Progress

Through two weeks and two intrasquad scrimmages, Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff have continued to tinker with the depth chart on the offensive line to create more competition there and improve the play.

As a result, Greg Gaskins has moved ahead of fellow redshirt freshman Jordan Gibbs as the backup left tackle to Jason Pinkston, and freshman Lucas Nix has pushed junior Joe Thomas for the starting right tackle spot. The backup center position for Pittsburgh, behind junior Robb Houser, is a toss-up between redshirt sophomore walk-on Alex Karabin and redshirt freshman Wayne Jones.

"It's a definite battle,'' Wannstedt said about Gaskins and Gibbs. "We have a battle for the backup center spot, and ... Alex played better in the scrimmage. Gaskins has made progress, and Jordan has just been too inconsistent. So, right now, we're giving Gaskins an opportunity.''

Nix clearly has made strides in the past week since he moved from guard to right tackle, and his footwork is solid. However, Wannstedt said he needed to improve his upper-body strength, "if you can believe that,'' and improve his ability to understand and handle blitzes and make adjustments. But the latter points are difficult for all freshmen as they learn the offense.

"Lucas Nix is going to be a great player for us,'' Wannstedt said. "He's going to be everything that we thought when we recruited him. ... Physically, he's getting better every day, and I'm pleased with how he's progressing.

"I think Lucas is going to have to play. Not that I'm dissatisfied with the play at right tackle, but we've got to get more consistent there. And Lucas has the ability to do it, so the competition between he and Joe Thomas has been good.''

The backup quarterback position has not been settled, either. While a starter has not officially been named, redshirt junior Bill Stull is the clear-cut leader. However, sophomore Pat Bostick and redshirt sophomore Kevan Smith appear to be in a closer competition for the second-team spot.

Smith took the majority of the reps during the scrimmage Saturday, which Wannstedt said was by design, while Bostick primarily guided the second team during Sunday's 90-minute practice. The two had been splitting the reps to that point, but Wannstedt previously said that Bostick was ahead of Smith. Both have had good camps and have taken turns making big plays, so Wannstedt said he "might not make that decision until game time, really,'' about the backup quarterback. "All three of those guys are getting a lot of work, and it's working out fairly well to this point,'' Wannstedt added.

Pitt's secondary is another position where there wasn't a lot of depth when camp began, at least not many players with experience, but thanks to steady improvement from freshman cornerbacks Ronald Hobby, Jarred Holly and Antwuan Reed -- who have all been praised by Wannstedt -- this area could be a team strength sooner than later.

The same thing was true at safety, but freshman Andrew Taglianetti has performed above expectations in the base defense.

The Panthers return game is also becoming more clear with junior cornerback Aaron Berry returning punts again this year. It appears that Wannstedt does not want to risk using a younger player like redshirt freshmen Aundre Wright and Aaron Smith, since Berry has the "best hands and most experience.''

The kickoff return group is a bit more muddled with senior LaRod Stephens-Howling, junior T.J. Porter, Wright and Taglianetti getting a look.

Concerning Pitt's 91-play scrimmage Saturday, which included kicking portions, Wannstedt was most pleased with his quarterbacks and their effort because there were no turnovers and just one offensive penalty.

"Anytime you come out of a scrimmage like that with no turnovers, you're going to feel good about your offense,'' Wannstedt said. "We had one offensive penalty and zero turnovers, and the quarterbacks made good decisions, for the most part. So, I was very pleased with that, because it was much-improved from the first scrimmage.

"Defensively, I thought we tackled good, for the most part, but the offensive made a few plays on some scrambles. There were a couple mental mistakes, so we're not as sharp mentally right now on defense as what we need to be. So, we need to clean up a few things there, which we will. But, overall, I thought the effort was good.''

Notes: Wannstedt said he could see a scenario where all three tight ends -- juniors Nate Byham, John Pelusi and Dorin Dickerson -- could be on the field at the same time, with Byham or Dickerson possibly splitting out. ... The top play during Sunday night's practice was a 40-yard bomb from Stull to fifth-year senior Derek Kinder. He split fifth-year senior safety Eric Thatcher and junior cornerback Jovani Chappel, and Stull dropped the pass between the defenders, as Kinder corralled it for a touchdown. ... Tailback LeSean McCoy wore No. 5 at practice Sunday to honor Cam Saddler, who had season-ending knee surgery this past week.

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