Wideout Jonathan Baldwin and offensive tackle Lucas Nix (2008) and offensive guard Chris Jacobson (2007) -- each with sophomore eligibility -- are possible starters. The other five-star guys are defensive end Shayne Hale (2008), quarterback Pat Bostick (2007), and tight ends Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson (2006). LeSean McCoy (2007) also had a five-star rating.
The two offensive linemen, right tackle Nix and left guard Jacobson, could be three-year starters for Pittsburgh if things fall into place this fall.
"Lucas had a good spring, starting from the second half on,'' Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise said. "He's got a lot of athletic ability, so he started to display a lot of natural things. So, he started to show that, and that's why he's locked in there at right tackle. He's our starter there right now.
"He's a young kid who just has to grow up, but it has to happen on the field. He has to play, and he'll continue to get better -- we believe -- with every game. Starting with Youngstown, and going to Buffalo and so on. Hopefully, by the time we get to Notre Dame, he'll be a real good player.''
If Nix steadily progresses, he'll be a key part of the Panthers' offensive line this fall. Jacobson could be the same as a guard. However, he is battling senior Joe Thomas for the starting spot on the left side. Thomas is a three-year starter at three different positions now, so Jacobson's work is cut out for him.
"It just doesn't come as naturally to Chris, but he's got a lot of toughness,'' Wise said. "He's as tough as nails. He's aggressive. He likes to kill people, but he's just sorting things out more. He's basically thinking more, and it's not quite as natural right now as it is for Lucas. But Chris will get there.
"So, Chris and Joe Thomas are still alternating at left guard, and we'll do that until one of them secures that spot. We're just working on assignments now, so it's not a problem to alternate those guys for now. But somebody has to take control there for us to get all our linemen working together.''
Some might believe that Nix should have redshirted last season, since he played in just six games and only a handful of plays in those. But Nix has mixed feelings on the topic.
"When I came down here, I knew there was going to be a learning curve for me, as far as getting in the film room and getting myself ready to play college football,'' Nix said. "Last year was a big learning experience for me.
"I watched Joe Thomas, C.J., John Malecki and those guys, and they really helped me out. So, now, I feel more comfortable and can't wait to really get going in camp and start hitting some people. That's the best thing for me.''
"Sure, I wanted to play more, but at least I got in for a few plays when I did get into a game,'' Nix added. "And it really was a big help, because there's really no comparison to high school. And not even practice is close to the game speed. The game is really fast, and you realize that when you get playing time.''
Nix noted that despite his feelings at the time, when his number was called there was no way he was going to stay on the sideline.
"I definitely was excited to get in there for the first time,'' Nix said. "There were some rough spots, but I think I did all right for the time I played. And I'm definitely ready to go this season. All the training and the games that I played got be ready. And like I said, I can't wait to hit somebody.
"I guess some people think it was a wasted year for me, but I really don't feel that way. Maybe a redshirt year would have helped on one hand, because I would still have four seasons to play here. But since I'm counted on to contribute this year, it probably was good that I played some to get ready.''
One thing is certain, both Nix and Jacobson put in a lot of additional time in the offseason, in the weight room and watching film, and they're reaping benefits. Nix is a little leaner, about 295 pounds, but he's stronger and quicker. Jacobson is among the strongest players on the team now.
"I had a great summer,'' Jacobson said. "I trained hard with Buddy. He did a great job getting everybody in much better shape. After a couple years here, you can really see the difference. I'm healthy now, with my knee, and I'm in the best shape ever. I'm stronger and quicker, and I'm ready to go.
"I've been waiting for this for a long time, a chance to start and definitely to play a lot, and I'm going to take advantage of it. I had the knee injury right away as a freshman, and it was a slow process coming back last season. But now, I'm healthy and strong and ready for the season to begin.''
A three-year starter, Thomas played right tackle last fall and right guard as a freshman and sophomore. Jacobson backed up C.J. Davis at left guard last season, but wasn't ready to assume the starting job when Davis moved to center after Robb Houser was injured. But this could be his time.
"I'm ready now,'' Jacobson said. "We have to trust what the coaches tell us and what Buddy has us doing. Joe has been here a long time, and I still have to prove myself. Nothing is going to be handed to anybody.
"We all have to earn our spots, and I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team on the offensive line. I'd like it to be a starter, but we'll see what happens. We have to prove ourselves to the coaches, and we can do that by working hard, putting in the extra time and doing what they tell us.
"I've been here a while now, but it hasn't been easy,'' Jacobson added. "And things haven't always gone my way, but now that I'm healthy I'm going to get an opportunity to show what I can do. I just have to take advantage of it.''
And there's no time like the present for both Nix and Jacobson.
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