Going back to the spring, Greg Gaskins has worked strictly with the first team at right guard. The first official sign of him winning that job was Friday, when Pitt released its first official depth chart of the season. Despite his name being up with the first team, there still seems to be some anxiety on the part of Dave Wannstedt--even more anxiety on the offensive line, than he has in the quarterback position.
There's two reasons for that anxiety. One, is the obvious, having to fill in for the graduated John Malecki. Malecki set the tone for the Panthers to become a physical team, offensively, during his career. Of any of the graduated starters from a year ago, Malecki's shoes were the biggest to fill. In addition to that, Gaskins is an important piece of the offensive puzzle this year. If he doesn't pan out, or if he, or someone else goes down with an injury, the options are more limited on the offensive line than they are anywhere else.
"The only position that we don't have that much depth at, currently, is the offensive line," Wannstedt said Monday. "Right now, we have a quality tackle, a quality guard. We just don't have the depth there that we have on the defensive line and a couple of other spots."
All throughout camp, Wannstedt referred to the right guard position battle as being shared reps between Gaskins and Ryan Turnley, even though Gaskins was primarily with the first team, and Turnley primarily with the second team. Of all the position battles, this is as close as Wannstedt came all camp, to saying that Gaskins was a starter.
"Right now, Greg Gaskins has performed the most consistent," Wannstedt said, as the team broke camp last Saturday.
Gaskins, though, is ready for the challenge--of not only keeping himself in the starting lineup, but doing it well. Though he may have had to wait until his fourth year in the program to gain his first career start, and the fact it will be against an imposing front four in front of a hostile Utah crowd, Gaskins says these are reasons you come to a school like Pitt.
"That's what you come here to play for." Gaskins said. "You come here to play against the best. As soon as you sign that letter to say you‘re coming here, this is what you look forward to--going out there and playing."
Gaskins redshirted in his first season in 2007. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, he was a backup at right tackle, but did not play in any games. Last season, he played in all 13 games--mostly on special teams. This year, he finally gets his chance to start. Even though it is his first start, some of his linemates already have the confidence in him, because he has been around for awhile.
"It feels awkward, saying that I'm going to break in Greg, since he's a year ahead of me, but he's a good player," right tackle Lucas Nix said. "He played behind me last year. It's not like he's new to the system. He's been around, and he knows what he's doing."
Experience is one thing going for Gaskins. There's also a certain pressure he puts on himself, heading into this game. Every other starter in the offensive huddle, when they break for the first time, has already proven themselves at some point in their Pitt career--all except for Sunseri and center Alex Karabin, who will line up next to Gaskins.
Sure, there is some concern, but if there is one thing Gaskins shares with the rest of his offensive teammates, it's that he now has to prove himself as a starter the same way they did. Lucas Nix made his first career start last year, after seeing limited action in six games as a true freshman. Jason Pinkston saw his first action just days after moving over from the defensive line, as a true freshman.
It doesn't get much tougher than Thursday to prove himself, and he doesn't appear to be backing down.
"It's not like we're just going in there new," Gaskins said of the offensive line. "We've all played together, so we all have a feel with each other; the cohesiveness, the chemistry is there. Just because we're new, doesn't mean there will be any fall off from last year.
"It's coming together really good, because the (returning starters) never doubted (him and Karabin) or anything. The upperclassmen, like Pinkston and Lucas, we came in and we fit in right with them. It's not like we never played with them before. We've all played together in practice. We've already had chemistry. It's coming together real good."