The only two spots on the line that are solidified--meaning there's no chance of either player moving--is on the left side with Jason Pinkston and Chris Jacobson. Lucas Nix (as we'll get to in a minute), is in no danger of losing a starting job. The question here--and really the question of this analysis, is will it be better for him to stay at right tackle, or will it be better for him to move inside to right guard? That's all dependent on how Gaskins does.
The center position could be a position battle between Alex Karabin and Jack Lippert, but when it's all said and done, Karabin has waited his turn, and is more of a natural center right now. Though Lippert is an important piece of the offensive line, he is still making the transition. He's a good enough athlete, and is going to be valuable in the near future. For now, it's Karabin's turn.
So here are the two scenarios for which the 2010 offensive line will play out:
(from left to right)
Jason Pinkston, Chris Jacobson, Alex Karabin, Greg Gaskins, Lucas Nix
This seems to be the most obvious starting lineup. Chris Jacobson backed up Joe Thomas last season, and pushed him all the way in fall camp. When filling in for Thomas in the starting lineup, Jacobson showed no flaws or no signs of being inexperienced. He proved he's ready to go.
Now, is Greg Gaskins ready to go? Of all the linemen with this first group, Gaskins is the one player who has played guard, center and tackle in his years at Pitt. It would seem--since he played guard in his high school career, that Lucas Nix still has an ideal height and weight for a guard. Despite being a year younger, Nix was ready to see the field earlier in his career than Gaskins was. He would be more versatile to move inside to guard, and to let Gaskins move in at right tackle, where he backed up Nix last season.
Nix will stay at tackle for a couple of reasons. One, he has a chance to be a dominant right tackle. Based on his abilities, he can be a pretty good guard making the transition. Instead, the plan looks to be keeping him at right tackle and have a second year there. He did pretty good in his first year as a starter, as just a sophomore. Making it through that year, there's a lot of confidence and experience he developed, that open him up for much more this season--such as being dominant the second time around.
Can Greg Gaskins be another John Malecki? Can anyone can be a John Malecki? One thing Malecki did--aside from his physical play--is how he mentored Nix in his first year as a starter. Now, the roles have reversed. Nix remembers the position Malecki played, had to know Malecki's assignments, and how they coincided with his own assignments. Now, Nix has to show Gaskin the ropes on the right guard assignments. In other words, it's better for Nix to be dominant at his right tackle position, after seeing and remembering what Malecki did, and now translating for Gaskins what he needs to do. This is the other logical reason he stays at right tackle.
Jason Pinkston, Chris Jacobson, Alex Karabin, Lucas Nix, Greg Gaskins
Last year, the run game benefited from having seniors Joe Thomas and John Malecki. Imagine how much they'd benefit from Jacobson and Nix--two players, who coming out of high school, were All-Americans. Nix played guard, at times, during his prep career, including the 2008 U.S. Army All-American game.
This move would be made for one of three reasons. One, is if Gaskins proves to be the fifth-best lineman right now, which seems to be the case. Two, is if it's absolutely 100 percent better to use Nix's athleticism, to move him inside to guard as opposed to Gaskins, struggling to learn the right guard assignments. That last reason, combined with Gaskins proving to be more effective, and less of a risk by playing right tackle. The only way we'll find more about this one, is once we see Gaskins line up in camp.
Left Tackle - Jason Pinkston, Juantez Hollins
Left Guard - Chris Jacobson, Fernando Diaz/Ryan Schlieper
Center - Alex Karabin, Jack Lippert
Right Guard - Greg Gaskins, Ryan Turnley
Right Tackle - Lucas Nix, Jordan Gibbs