Already, after a year where the line allowed just 1.15 sacks a game (tops in the Big East, 16th nationally) and a year where they paved the way for 1,799 yards for true freshman running back Dion Lewis, Wannstedt has to replace three of those starters. In addition to that, he has some depth issues. The starters, or at least those expected to start in 2010, look solid. The depth behind those starting spots is what's in question.
It's hard to believe that Jason Pinkston will graduate after this season. It's even harder to believe that Chris Jacobson--who has a much anticipated debut in the starting lineup this season, and Lucas Nix only have two more years. These three were very coveted players in their respective recruiting classes.
While the depth issues hope to get solved either in training camp, or as the season progresses, that isn't the issue. When you think of Pitt's offensive line for the present, you think of players like Pinkston, Nix and Jacobson. The problem is, Pitt hasn‘t recruited a name like a Nix, since Nix committed in the summer of 2007. They've also had a problem keeping either WPIAL or other in-state linemen, close to home. Wednesday, Rowell solved both of those problems by committing to Pitt.
There were a host of talented lineman from Pennsylvania in 2010--Miles Dieffenbach, Luke Graham, Tom Ricketts, Jr--they all chose Penn State, and the egos of the Panther coaching staff were bruised. They had put such a great deal of effort into keeping local kids at home, to build an offensive line around. With the programs continued rise, it somehow became more difficult to keep the top linemen in-state.
Pitt's 2010 line--if it is projected the way it was run in the spring, will consist of all Pennsylvania players, including four of five starters all from the WPIAL. The other top backups who may compete for spots (Jordan Gibbs, Ryan Turnley) are also from Pennsylvania. Not that it's necessary for Pitt to fully have all offensive lineman from in-state, but there is some value to that. One, for cohesiveness. Players like Nix and Jacobson take great pride in representing the WPIAL, coming to Pitt. Two, it's just important to build that "fence" to keep all the best linemen close to home, to keep the pipeline going.
Aside from what state or what school Rowell is from, one problem with this year's offensive line is the fact that a lot of guys are guard/tackle kind of players. Pinkston, if there was more depth at the tackle position, can play guard. The same can be said for Nix. Gibbs and Greg Gaskins--who seem to be next in line, are being worked in at guard, but have been tackles for the majority of their careers. Both were worked in at guard this past spring because for now, that is their closest way to the field. If something were to happen to either Pinkston or Nix, they would be the first tackle in. However, the starting spot in question is right guard.
Since Pitt has a lack of experienced players that can play guard or center, the coaching staff was forced to move a pair of tackles in Gaskins and Gibbs to battle it out for the right guard spot with Ryan Turnley, who is also in the mix. Rowell told us the other day that he is going to start off on the interior line.
"Guard or center, somewhere on the interior line," Rowell said. "They haven't said specially yet, but definitely guard or center."
That's refreshing, because the Panthers have few--if any players that are guard/center type of players. There's no shortage of players who can play either guard or tackle. The fact they don't have any players like that on their roster right now, forced Jack Lippert to convert from defensive line to center. That in itself is not a problem, because it's a faster way for Lippert to the field, and he's enough of an athlete to be able to make such a transition.
Alex Karabin looks like he'll be set to assume the starting position at center this year. It would be nice to have a player that can play either guard, or center. Why? For depth, first and foremost. However, wouldn't it be nice to just have a couple guys who can play both positions? That way, if it comes to a crunch, both players would be able to start?
Hypothetically speaking, Pitt has Fernando Diaz as a redshirt freshman at guard, but he can also play center. He will compete for the chance to backup Jacobson or whoever the starting right guard is. Brandon Sacco is signed for 2010, looking to fill the same role. Now, the Panthers have Rowell. Interior line consists of three positions--two guards and a center. All three of these players have the physical tools to play either position. It would be nice, knowing Wannstedt would be able to start all three, while truly letting the best player out of those three, start at center.
Throw in the fact other players recently signed such as Matt Rotherham, Arthur Doakes and Shane Johnson--all big offensive guards, over 300 pounds each, can be moved to tackle. How much would Tony Wise like to have these three, who had the footwork to play guard in high school, yet be bigger than any of the current starting tackles. This, all because of Rowell's commitment.
It might not come down to that. Anything can happen. If this offensive line needs one thing right now, it's depth. Players who can play guard and tackle are a dime a dozen. Players who can play guard and center, not so much. Now, thanks to Rowell's verbal commitment on Wednesday, Pitt has that luxury.