Sure, Pittsburgh got five-star All-American guard Chris Jacobson for the 2007 class to go with Jeff Otah and Joe Thomas in 2006, but tackles like Lucas Nix can be a cornerstone for program's offensive line for 3-4 years.
Nix didn't play much as a freshman, but this season he's shown steady improvement and is meshing nicely with veteran Panthers Thomas, center Robb Houser, tackle Jason Pinkston and guard John Malecki. Pinkston and Malecki were good recruits, but began their careers on offense.
"Lucas has had some mental mistakes, but they've all been mistakes that are correctable,'' Wannstedt said. "They've all been mistakes that are really due to inexperience. He's very intelligent. He's got great feet. He's a tough guy. Probably the one thing that's keeping Lucas from really taking a giant step forward is his overall strength.
"He's much improved from a year ago, but ... a good offseason with Buddy Morris will make all the difference in the world. He'll probably benefit as much as anybody on our football team a year from now, because he has all the other things going for him.''
Nix got some competition during training camp and missed some time with an infection in his leg, but once the season began his level of play steadily increased. And it doesn't hurt that he goes up against junior defensive end Jabaal Sheard every day in practice, either.
"We're really progressing through this season, and each game I think we're taking strides as a team and an offensive line unit,'' Nix said. "You can see it in our games, knowing time management to different situations, we're improving all the time. Our progression is pretty clear, so that feels pretty good.
"And as we go along in the season, I feel a lot better about how I'm playing. I'm learning something every day, playing against our defense, and I feel like I'm more prepared. When we go one-on-one with our D-line, I get Jabaal a couple times. And when I get the best of him, I know I'm ready for the next game.''
Offensive line coach Tony Wise echoed that sentiment.
"If Nix is blocking Sheard and doing a good job on him, then he's getting ready for the ball game no matter who is on the other side,'' Wise said. "And we stress that every week. (But) Lucas is doing a great job. What he lacks is the maturity that Joe Thomas and John Malecki have. He's just a sophomore, so he lacks the bulk strength that some of these other guys have.
"But he's a very good athlete, and that's how he counters it a little. He can change directions real well, and he does like to hit guys. So, that's been a real nice blend, but as he develops more strength and know his weaknesses. ... He'll learn that, but I think he's learning something every week.''
Malecki probably knows Nix as well as anybody on the Panthers, other than his older brother, Pitt defensive end Nate Nix.
"Lucas is very coachable,'' Malecki said. "He's a big kid with a big learning curve. He didn't play much last season, but he always worked with the first and second team. So, he learned the plays and went against all the good players on our defense, and he's really developed a lot in every game this season.
"That makes me happy, because I've known him since he was like 14 years old. So, it's great to see this young kid develop into a really good offensive lineman, and it's also a good thing because he plays next to me on the line. It's really cool to have a good friend like Lucas working together with me this season, and I know he's going to have a great future at Pitt.''
That was the plan when Nix committed more than two years ago.
Nix Future Lynchpin For Pitt's O-Line
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