Pitt undergoes changing of the guard

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008

Pitt made senior left guard C.J. Davis its emergency backup center last week, marking the first time since his freshman year of high school that he snapped the ball to a quarterback in a live setting.

"Never did we dream," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said, "that he'd be in there finishing the game."

Make that the season.

When starting center Robb Houser was lost for the year with a broken left ankle against Rutgers, the Panthers didn't hesitate to move Davis one spot to his right. That prompted a shuffle on the offensive line that saw fifth-year senior Dom Williams replace Davis at left guard.

Williams is expected to be in the starting lineup when Pitt (5-2) visits Notre Dame (5-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Coincidentally, Williams made the trip to South Bend, Ind., while taking a redshirt in 2004 and started against the Fighting Irish as a redshirt freshman in 2005.

"It definitely has come full circle," said Williams, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native who spent a post-graduate year at the U.S. Air Force Academy prep school and, at 24, is the team's oldest player. "I never thought my next start would be against Notre Dame again. I'm excited for the opportunity."

It will mark the first time Williams and Davis have lined up beside each other in the starting front five, something they have been talking about for years. Where Williams started the first two games of his career at left guard, Davis took that spot in the sixth game of the '05 season, started the next 37 games and developed into the Panthers' most dependable lineman.

"We are excited for the opportunity to finally play (next to) each other," Williams said. "C.J., at center, is going to be fine. He's a great athlete, so we don't have to worry about him. It's more so up to me not being the weak link in the line."

Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise believes Davis will handle the transition seamlessly. Davis already was taking pre-practice snaps with quarterbacks, so he has the mechanics down. The main adjustment will come in making the calls on blocking assignments. Davis not only knows the offensive scheme but occasionally helped Houser in that regard.

Where it could affect the Panthers is in the run game, as Davis was adept at pulling for lead blocks on power plays. But Wise looks at the move as an advantage, considering Davis is one of the team's most powerful players and will be going head-to-head with Notre Dame 310-pounder Ian Williams.

"Their best player is a nose tackle, so, in some ways, that's a little bit of a benefit," Wise said. "C.J. is a little bit more powerful in there. There's a downside at left guard, but he could possibly be a benefit at center with him being covered by this guy."

Wise didn't rule out the possibility that Pitt could make future changes to the starting lineup, hinting that freshman right tackle Lucas Nix could get a long look at left guard as a backup to or replacement for Williams.

The one constant appears to be Davis staying at center.

"I believe that I know the offense in and out, and all the years I've been here I feel like they really wanted me to get (a shot at center), but it didn't happen," Davis said. "So this is the perfect opportunity for me to get there."

Note: Wannstedt hasn't ruled out Bill Stull (concussion) from playing against Notre Dame but said Pitt won't name a starting quarterback until the day of the game. "I'm going to be optimistic and hope that we'll know a lot more before that," Wannstedt said, "but as far as anything being announced publicly we're just going to take it a day at a time and make the announcement on Saturday."

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