Pitt settles on starters
Pitt coach Todd Graham has a vision of how he wants his football team to take shape, and he offered a clear picture of it Monday when he assembled his No. 1 offensive line.
The Panthers will do everything fast -- Graham said the team eventually may settle on 18 seconds between snaps -- but he wants the power running game to be his offensive staple.
To that end, Graham chose redshirt sophomore Juantez Hollins of Aliquippa to be his left tackle over senior Greg Gaskins. Meanwhile, he shifted Lucas Nix from right tackle to right guard.
"Hollins is a little bit ahead from a run-blocking standpoint," Graham said. "Gaskins is a little bit ahead from a pass-blocking standpoint."
Nix, who played at Thomas Jefferson, is equally adept at run- and pass-blocking, but he helps fortify the middle of the line where the maulers slug it out with the defense and the yards don't come easily.
Plus, Graham likes having seniors Nix and left guard Chris Jacobson sandwiching center Ryan Turnley, who is still learning the position.
"Nix is really phenomenal at guard," Graham said. "That experience inside with him and Jacobson, we think that kind of helps with a new center."
Graham also believes he has found some depth on the line, with reserve guards Cory King and Matt Rotheram and Gaskins at tackle. Starting right tackle Jordan Gibbs, the biggest lineman at 6-foot-7, 315 pounds, also can play the left side.
With the opener Sept. 3 against Buffalo still 12 days away, the configuration could change, but Graham started installing a game plan Monday with Gibbs, Nix, Turnley, Jacobson and Hollins lined up, left to right.
Here is a look at competition at other positions:
The fight is to be the No. 1 backup to starter Tino Sunseri, who had an outstanding camp. Graham said he will settle on either walkon freshman Trey Anderson or redshirt freshman Mark Myers by the end of the week.
Ray Graham is at the top of the depth chart, followed by senior Zach Brown. There will be an ongoing battle for playing time among freshmen Malcolm Crockett, Corey Davis and Isaac Bennett.
"Crockett has been steady, ready to play. He's not running like a freshman," Todd Graham said. "Davis is explosive. He is going to play. You hate to have to play them as freshmen, but they are too good not to."
The freshman to watch is Ronald Jones, who had six receptions and returned a punt for a touchdown in the scrimmage Saturday. Graham called Jones "the star of the scrimmage."
Hubie Graham, a transfer from Illinois, is ahead of redshirt freshman Drew Carswell at 3-back (a hybrid tight end/fullback position).
Injured veteran wide receivers Devin Street and Cam Saddler are expected to return today, Graham said.
Graham isn't afraid to set an impressively high standard for sophomore tackle Aaron Donald of Penn Hills.
"My expectations are for him to be the best in the country," Graham said. "Aaron has tremendous power and explosiveness about him. What he has to do is make sure he operates within the framework of the defense."
Coaches aren't afraid to widen those boundaries for Donald.
"He likes to attack," Graham said, "and our scheme is letting that happen for him. He is a load."
Seniors Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih also will start on a unit that will include K.K. Mosley-Smith, Tyrone Ezell, Justin Hargrove and T.J. Clemmings.
"I feel really good about our defensive line," Graham said.
The decision at inside linebacker will come down to senior Tristan Roberts' experience or redshirt sophomore Shane Gordon's potential and superior athleticism.
"There is no substitute for experience," Graham said, "but Gordon gives us a different dimension there."
Redshirt freshman Todd Thomas has edged past senior Greg Williams at outside linebacker, while All-Big East candidate Brandon Lindsey is entrenched on the other side. Freshman Ejuan Price will play on third downs, Graham said.
Sophomore cornerback K'Waun Williams is recovering from an injury and should return to full activity before the Buffalo game. Senior Antwuan Reed lines up on the other side, with kickoff return ace Buddy Jackson the first player off the bench.
The safeties are Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks, with Andrew Taglianetti able to line up deep in the secondary or as an outside linebacker.
Graham said he was pleased with kicker Kevin Harper and punter Matt Yoklic of Pine-Richland throughout training camp.
Breaking it down
Here is a look at Pitt's No. 1 units on offense and defense - subject to change before the opener Sept. 3 against Buffalo
Position -- Player -- Ht., wt. -- Class
Left tackle -- Juantez Hollins -- 6-5, 305 -- Redshirt sophomore
Left guard -- Chris Jacobson -- 6-3, 295 -- Fifth-year senior
Center -- Ryan Turnley -- 6-6, 320 -- Redshirt junior
Right guard -- Lucas Nix -- 6-6, 310 -- Senior
Right tackle -- Jordan Gibbs -- 6-7, 315 -- Fifth-year senior
Quarterback -- Tino Sunseri -- 6-2, 215 -- Redshirt junior
Running back -- Ray Graham -- 5-9, 195 -- Junior
3-Back -- Hubie Graham -- 6-4, 230 -- Redshirt junior
Wide receiver -- Mike Shanahan -- 6-5, 215 -- Redshirt junior
Wide receiver -- Devin Street -- 6-4, 190 -- Redshirt sophomore
Wide receiver -- Cam Saddler -- 5-7, 170 -- Redshirt junior
Position -- Player -- Ht., wt. -- Class
Nose tackle -- Myles Caragein -- 6-2, 290 -- Fifth-year senior
Defensive end -- Aaron Donald -- 6-0, 270 -- Sophomore
Defensive tackle -- Chas Alecxih -- 6-5, 285 -- Fifth-year senior
Inside linebacker -- Max Gruder -- 6-2, 230 -- Fifth-year senior
Inside linebacker -- Shane Gordon -- 6-1, 230 -- Redshirt sophomore
Outside linebacker -- Brandon Lindsey -- 6-2, 250 -- Fifth-year senior
Outside linebacker -- Todd Thomas -- 6-2, 220 -- Redshirt freshman
Cornerback -- K'Waun Williams -- 5-10, 190 -- Sophomore
Cornerback -- Antwuan Reed -- 5-10, 190 -- Senior
Safety -- Jarred Holley -- 5-10, 190 -- Redshirt junior
Safety -- Jason Hendricks -- 6-0, 185 -- Redshirt sophomore