And that was late last season. Nate Nix finally got that opportunity with the Pittsburgh football team during the second intra-squad scrimmage Saturday, as injuries limited the Panthers' defensive ends.
Nix finished with three tackles, including two solo stops, forced a fumble and then recovered it in the scrimmage. In 22 career games, Nix has 18 tackles, included nine solo, one fumble recovery and limited prospects for the future.
"Even last year, toward the end of the year, I wanted to make this transition to D-end,'' Nix said. "I think I can bring more to the team from that position. My style coming off the ball, how I like to engage and being an aggressive player up in the action, that's the type of linebacker that I was.
"But it really didn't fit into the style of linebackers that we have here now. I'm a physical player, so they figured I was a better fit for this position. Finally, when a couple guys went down and your low on the depth chart at your position, it was time to make a change. So, I got the opportunity to go out and show them what I could do, and I felt like I did that in the second scrimmage.''
Nix has worked several practice days now at D-end, and he certainly doesn't appear to be overwhelmed.
"It feels real comfortable, but I have to work more on my technique,'' Nix said. "Getting my hands down, my handwork and footwork, and I need to get my calls down. But you know, all the calls that we have, the linebackers are giving to the D-ends. So, it should be an easy transition there.''
Monday morning, Nix got a chance to go through one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen and held his own against some second- and third-teamers. But an initial matchup against his brother, Pitt's starting right offensive tackle Lucas Nix, will have to wait for another day.
"The guys were getting on me because I didn't go against my brother the first time, but I thought I did real good,'' Nix said. "Coming off the ball real quick is my strong point, and I need to take advantage of that.
"So, when I get that jump and with those linemen leaning on me, there's a couple different ways I can go. Coming off the line with speed, that's basically one of my assets. I just have to get the handwork to go with that.''
At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Nix is somewhat rangy for a Pitt lineman, but some might believe him to be undersized as a defensive end.
"I don't feel like my perceived lack of size is a problem,'' Nix said. "I weigh 235, but I'm strong and quick coming off the ball, and that's what you need to do. If you have good footwork, and if you're a physical kid weight doesn't matter.
"If you're strong, you can do what anybody else can do. So, it's different. I've got to get used to all the different blocks that they get on me. But I don't feel that my weight will be a problem at all.''
Nix has worked primarily on the right side in practice, but he played the left size during the scrimmage. He said that Pitt D-line coach Greg Gattuso wants him to learn both sides to be as versatile as possible.
Nix plans to keep his No. 44.
In A Rush
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