A New Beginning

At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, John Malecki was a quick, solid, backup defensive tackle the past two seasons for the Pitt football team.

After an ingenious position switch in the spring, John Malecki has a chance to be a spectacular offensive lineman at Pittsburgh. A junior, Malecki secured the starting right guard spot in training camp this year and is a big reason that the Panthers running game is firing on all cylinders right now.

No. 17 Pitt (5-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big East) plays host to Rutgers (2-5, 1-2) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field. A near sellout is expected with good weather and a solid walk-up crowd.

"John was a successful offensive lineman in high school, and we liked him as much as we did on defense when we recruited him,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "That made the transition a little easier. ... And with Tony Wise coming in, he didn't know anybody and didn't care what they did in the past.

"So, I think John really hit it at the right time, and he was able to get in on the ground floor, so to speak. We were getting a new O-line coach, and he was playing a new position. And everything was up for grabs, but John really has come along this season. And he's playing very well right now.''

Wannstedt was quick to add that the entire offensive line was playing well, from Malecki to redshirt sophomore left tackle Jason Pinkston, senior left guard C.J. Davis, junior center Robb Houser and junior right tackle Joe Thomas. That notion is confirmed by Pitt's rushing totals the past three games -- 241 yards at Syracuse, 146 at South Florida (deflated by minus-18 team rushing and minus-18 Bill Stull) and 244 at Navy -- and sensational sophomore tailback LeSean McCoy.

"John's a tough guy, but he had to learn so much more coming over to offense from defense,'' McCoy said. "I think he's developing in all the right ways. He's pulling a lot more now, getting to the next level, and he's so smart. He's really playing well, but so is the whole O-line. They're really coming together.''

Malecki readily agreed and added that as long as the Panthers continue to have good communication, identify the fronts correctly and fully understand the defenses that they're using Pitt should have success against anything that Rutgers should do on defense this week.

And with Coach Wise's direction, Pitt's O-line should continue to roll along.

"It's going really well with Coach Wise, but I think we all started at ground zero with him, not just me,'' Malecki said. "So, we all took his coaching as it came. He teaches a lot of things about how our offensive line works, and since we're not really 6-7 or 6-8 and 350-pound dudes our schemes really play well for us.

"So, Coach Wise has been great for all of us, helping us progress a lot, and we've been able to adapt to a lot of different types of defenses. Coach Wise has really taught me a lot about watching game film and what to look at. I was used to just watching specific people and what they did, but now I watch a lot more for alignments, changing personnel and downs and distance.

"That's a big difference there, and Coach Wise has helped me a lot in that area,'' Malecki added. "And I really never played offense before this, so he's taught me pretty much everything that I know. I pretty much started at square one here, even though I played some O-line in high school. In high school, we'd just run dudes over. So, it's a lot different here.''

Malecki admitted that there's more thinking involved to playing on the offensive line in college, always concerned with opposing alignments and working with your teammates as a cohesive unit.

"In high school you just ran toward a dude and pancaked him,'' Malecki said. "Obviously, the goal is the same, to put a guy on his back, but there's a lot of thinking in between. (And) it's also a different feeling for me, being on the field a lot more now, but I'm also 100 percent healthy.

"So, I don't have to worry about recovering from shoulder injuries (like he did since his freshman year), and I'm really starting to feel comfortable on the offensive line now. That makes it easier for us to go forward as a group, so I guess you could say that it's a new beginning for me.''

And just the tip of the iceberg for Malecki on his way to a bright future as an offensive guard.

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