Pittsburgh defensive line coach Greg Gattuso and offensive line coach Tony Wise put their groups through a rigorous workout this week, and here are some results from the one-on-one drills:
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Myles Caragein was outstanding in his several opportunities. He took on center Alex Karabin in the opening matchup and bull-dozed him into the tackling dummy that represents the quarterback. He also was too strong and quick for guards Chris Jacobson and Ryan Turnley.
"I'm not worried about Myles,'' Gattuso said. "He played a lot last year, and he had some success. The same thing with our four top D-ends, Romeus, Jabaal, Shayne and Brandon Lindsey. Our other tackles have less experience, but Chas is working hard and Justin Hargrove, too. He just has to stay healthy.''
Pitt's bookends on the defensive line, Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard, each had intriguing matchups. Romeus, who already has received some preseason recognition, used an incredibly quick first step to win his contest with fifth-year senior left tackle Jason Pinkston.
Sheard had two battles with junior right tackle Lucas Nix, and each won one. Sheard got the jump in the opener against Nix, who just didn't get his hands out quickly enough to lock him up. But the rematch a short time later was a stalemate, which basically is a win for Nix.
Wise's teaching ability will be tested this year, as he must replace the three interior O-linemen, but there's no reason to believe the veteran coach won't ace it. Redshirt junior Chris Jacobson, fifth-year senior Alex Karabin and redshirt junior Greg Gaskins have been running with the first team at those spots from the left to the right side.
"Alex knows what he's doing, and he has a lot of ability,'' Wise said. "But he's just a little bit short in a couple areas. He has to learn to use his hands better and things like that, so we'll keep working with him. And the young guys have to come on to give us additional depth.
"Juantez Hollins and Jack Lippert have a lot of ability. Fernando Diaz, Ryan Schlieper and Cory King all have it. But they're young, and we have to knock the rough edges off. But they'll get there. We just have to keep working with them, and this is an important spring as far as that's concerned.''
Redshirt junior Chas Alecxih has an edge for the other D-tackle spot next to Caragein, and he showed some nice moves to beat Jacobson, Hollins and Schlieper. Karabin rebounded from a rough start against Caragein to handle redshirt frosh Tyrone Ezell in an example of solid technique overcoming strength and quickness.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt believed that Hargrove, who has been set back by injuries the past two seasons, could challenge Alecxih for that starting spot. And so could Ezell, a physical specimen at 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds.
Ezell looked good against Lippert, who is getting extensive training at center, and has had a little trouble coming off the ball quickly enough after the snap. But "he just needs to gain some experience,'' Wise said.
Gaskins had two wins against Ty Tkach, while Diaz looked good in his shot against Bernardo Nunez. Pitt's backup defensive ends, Brandon Lindsey and Shayne Hale, also have shown improvement during their second spring season after changing from linebacker. Both are trying new moves to get to the quarterback.
"The first year, we want our D-linemen to work on one move and try to perfect it,'' Gattuso said. "Then, we'll add in some things. Brandon is a little bit ahead of Shayne, because he played end before in high school, but Shayne has always been a linebacker. So, he's still learning, but both have improved.''
One area where the Panthers already appear to be operating at a high level is their run-blocking, as tailbacks Dion Lewis and Ray Graham dripped off several long runs during the inside-run session.
"We could come off and hang in there with somebody right now, as we did here by pounding the ball up in there with Ray and Dion,'' Wise said. "But our pass-protection, that's a whole different ball of wax. So, we're working on that, and it'll get there slowly, but surely.''
Pitt continues to work out in full pads this week, but will not go through a full scrimmage until Saturday, April 3, at 10 a.m. Teams are only allowed two scrimmages, along with the spring game, so the Panthers will hold off until then, April 10 at 10 a.m. and the annual Blue-Gold Game April 17 at 2 p.m. at Heinz Field.
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