That spot will be filled by 24-year-old, fifth-year senior and recent Pitt graduate Dominic Williams. A top reserve now, Williams started the opening two games in 2005, including Coach Dave Wannstedt's first game at Pittsburgh against the Fighting Irish. And he actually was replaced later by then-freshman C.J. Davis.
"I never thought that my next start would be against Notre Dame again,'' Williams said. "It's a terrible way for it to happen, and I wish Robb could still be with us. (But) we have to move on and focus on Notre Dame.
"Me and C.J. have been talking about it for years, getting a chance to play next to each other. And we're excited that it's finally happened. And I felt really good Saturday when we got in there and got better as we went along.''
Since the listed backup at center, redshirt sophomore walk-on Alex Karabin, is hampered by an injury Davis worked some at center during practices last week. And Williams moved to guard then. Moving Davis to center also was discussed two years ago, according to Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, but instead the Panthers were able to bring in junior-college transfer Robb Houser this year.
Veteran coach Tony Wise, who has guided Pitt's offensive line fortunes since spring drills, believed it was clear-cut that Davis would move to center since he's an incredible athlete. And even though someone else could emerge this week among the other backup guards, Wise said that because Williams was the most-experienced he was a natural fit as well.
"Dom was the next guy in line, and he's done a good job since the spring,'' Wise said. "So, he's the next guy (on the depth chart). Dave is saying we want to leave it open for the guys during practice in case Chris Jacobson or somebody like him steps up during practice. That's fine.
"But in my mind it's a little bit more concrete than that. ... (But) John Bachman or Lumpy, if they're playing well, we could start another player. But Dom has to work with C.J. and get in-tuned with the game plan, because the backup guys don't get a lot of work during the week. Dom's getting a lot more snaps now than he's used to, but he'll be all right.''
Bachman actually seems to be the next logical choice, since he's the only backup to play both guard positions. Jacobson has only been John Malecki's backup at right guard. Freshman Lucas Nix also could get a few reps at guard, but he's the primary backup to junior Joe Thomas at right tackle.
There was some talk, Wise admitted, to move Thomas to guard and put Nix in at right tackle. And had Thomas not been playing as well as he has recently, that might have been the move. But the point is moot now. And Wise just appeared to be set on Williams from the outset, especially considering what the player has accomplished since the spring.
"This is my fifth year, and coming into this season I wasn't sure if I was going to come back,'' Williams said. "I didn't know if I was going to be good enough to play. But I stuck around, and the opportunity has come again that I will get some playing time. And that's what I wanted to do, get back on the field.
"(And) I have played before, so I feel like I have something to offer the team and help us win Saturday. I'm the oldest guy on the team, so it was just a matter of me deciding if I was getting too old to come back and play more college football.
"But to stay in college and play football,'' Williams added, "it really wasn't that hard of a decision to come back. You have to make a decision about it eventually, and I'm glad I decided to do it.''
Wannstedt and his staff reviewed their options as well and decided to ask Williams to return, especially since he was so interested in coming back, and now everyone involved is glad Dom Williams is still at Pitt. Wise discussed what he went through while getting to know Williams and his fellow linemates.
"Coming from my background, the pro guys we had all during the day, and it's more sophisticated,'' Wise said. "In college, they're limited in meeting time and practice time, and there's a lot of other things going on in their lives. So, it's been quite a process for me for me to learn.
"I had to learn what they didn't know (and) why they didn't know it. Obviously, some guys might have slept during a meeting, and others just might not have understood it. So, there's about two or three things. ... Why they didn't know it. Were they taught it, but didn't understand it? Or are they just a knucklehead and weren't concentrating? So, we went through that whole process.
"Dom has shown me a lot,'' Wise added. "A college kid doesn't think he's going to go into the game, for some reason, while the pros backup three guys are paying attention. Alex has been very good at watching the game and seeing tendencies, but other guys are down at the end talking to each other.''
While some believed that Malecki would move to offense all along, there never was a chance for him to play center. He only has taken "maybe seven snaps total'' in his entire life, including a few before the Big 33 game a few years ago, so he has a different view of the moves on the line.
"Dom Williams has played a lot of football here,'' Malecki said. "He's been here a while, and he knows this system. So, we're just as comfortable with Dom playing left guard as we were with C.J. in there.''
And after more than four years, Williams career has come full circle.
Dom Williams Is Back Where It Started
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