Malecki On Guard At Pitt

Pitt senior right offensive guard is about as laid-back as it gets for someone who must battle the opposition in hand-to-hand combat on every snap and plays the game with enough intensity to ignite a reporter's notebook.

But after sitting back and relaxing during the better part of an interview session John Malecki adjusted his ball camp and leaned forward when asked if there was a chance he would move to center this season for Pittsburgh.

"I'll do whatever the coaches want me to do, but there's no need for it,'' Malecki said. "Robb Houser is our center, and he's doing a good job. I needed to play center in the spring game because of injuries, but Robb's completely healthy now. And he's playing a thousand times better right now than he was before he got injured last year. A thousand times better.

"He's stronger and faster and playing very good football, so I don't think our center position is as much a worry as it was in the spring when he was coming off ankle surgery. They wondered if he could play this year, but he's proven that he can do it. (But) I'll play wherever they want. Guard, center, tackle, running back, it doesn't matter. I'll play wherever they want me to play.''

Malecki displayed that coachability when, after two seasons as a defensive tackle, he was moved to offense to shore up the line. He immediately stepped in at right guard in the spring, 2008, and has been a starter ever since. Malecki might not be the biggest, strongest or flashiest player, but he's as steady an offensive lineman as the Panthers have right now.

"He's very solid, a guy we'll rely on a lot,'' Pitt O-line coach Tony Wise said.

Through Wise's tutelage, Malecki has a shot to be a Big East all-star this year.

"I think I've progressed the past couple years, and it's a credit to the coaching staff to see something in me for them to put me on the O-line in the first place,'' Malecki said. "Coach Wise is a terrific coach, an excellent teacher, so I try to take everything I can from him in every practice and every meeting.

"I've filled a couple notebooks with things he's taught me about the offensive line. Playing guard, I really enjoy it now. I feel like I've been blessed to play on both sides of the ball at this level, but I'm really at home now as a guard. I really believe the move to guard will help me further my career, too.''

It helps Malecki and his Pitt O-line mates that the Panthers' defensive front is so talented, but the two-year starter believes he's being pushed on the depth chart from his side of the line as well.

"The O-line has tons of depth this year, 3-4 full lines,'' Malecki said. "And that's really going to help this program in the future. The freshman can learn from Coach Wise and be ready to step in when it's their turn in the future. Whenever that is, one or two years down the road.

"They don't have to get thrown in there ahead of schedule, and that's the way you need to build an offensive line. Any position at a good football program, and we're beginning to get that here. We have some veterans here, too, so the future looks really bright for this program, especially on the O-line.''

Malecki had a couple shoulder surgeries that hampered his development from being a senior at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pa. through his freshman season at Pitt. But after a couple healthy seasons, Malecki is ready to go out with a bang for the Panthers.

"Camp's going great,'' Malecki said. "The offensive pretty much has everything installed at this point, so it's just a matter of getting all the little things cleaned up and perfecting as much as possible to get ready for the season. We have lots of competition on both sides of the ball, and that's always good, too.

"The offensive line, we're really coming together as a unit. We're getting a greater feel for each other, and we're progressing every day. I know it might seem like we're not moving forward, but we are. And we'll definitely be where we need to be when the season begins. You can bet on that.''

Pitt opens the season with Youngstown State Sept. 1 at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.

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