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College

Looking ahead

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, April 22, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Pitt offensive lineman Lucas Nix during the spring game at Heinz Field May 2011. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Pitt offensive lineman Lucas Nix during the spring game at Heinz Field May 2011. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Don't call Lucas Nix during the NFL Draft this week. Chances are he'll be at home in Jefferson Hills, but he won't answer the phone.

“I'm going in the basement with my brother, me and Nate, and I'm locking everybody else out,” he said.

Mean? Maybe. What would you expect from a guy with two front teeth missing from the middle of a menacing smile?

But that attitude endears the former Pitt offensive lineman to the NFL and could help him get selected in a middle round, if teams are convinced his injuries have healed.

While meeting with coaches and scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and Pitt's Pro Day in March, the 6-foot-5, 317-pound Nix said coaches commented on his nasty streak.

“That's what all the coaches really like, how physical I am,” said Nix, a three-year starter.

Asked what it means to be physical, he said, “You never stand around and wait for something to happen. You are always chasing the ball.”

Nix projects as a “developmental project,” according to draft scout Dave-Te' Thomas, who runs Scouting Services Inc. and produces The NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by the league to the media.

“This year was not a stellar performance for him.”

Nix, ranked ninth among guards by Scouting Services, dislocated his left knee Sept. 29 against South Florida and missed the next five games, returning for the final three.

He said the knee and a strained pectoral muscle, which prevented him from lifting weights for scouts earlier this year, have healed. He planned to lift last week and send the videotape to teams.

“He is a powerful man, a good short-area blocker,” Thomas said. “If I am down in the red zone, he is going to fill the rush lanes for me.”

After having five players selected in the first or second rounds since 2007, Pitt may have none this year.

“I look at the entire Panther draft prospects, and I don't think they are going to be sitting around the first two days (three rounds) jumping up and down,” Thomas said.

The first area player selected may be Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, who at 6-foot-5, 303 pounds might go late in the first round.

“He had games where he simply dominated,” Thomas said. “But look at the Wisconsin game. You could find Waldo faster.

“That general manager will find himself on the unemployment line if (Still) goes in the first round.”

The key day for area players will be Saturday in rounds four through seven. West Virginia's Julian Miller, who is moving from defensive end to tackle, is one such prospect.

“You move that kid to defensive end, and you are going to end up with Richard Seymour,” Thomas said.

Other Pitt players who will attract late-round interest are defensive tackle Chas Alecxih and cornerback Buddy Jackson.

“Alecxih is physical,” Thomas said.

“He really handles himself well against double-team blocks. He is not a great pass rusher, but I need my defensive tackles to occupy blockers.”

Jackson, a backup in college, ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range at Pitt's Pro Day.

“I will take a flyer on an athlete any day, especially an athlete at a skill position,” Thomas said.

Providing competition for Nix will be guard Gino Gradkowski, a Seton-La Salle graduate who played at Delaware after transferring from West Virginia.

He is the 14th-ranked guard, according to Scouting Services, and could get picked in a middle round.

He said he has visited the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers.

“It was very exciting,” said Gradkowski, whose brother, Bruce, is a backup quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals.

“But at the same time, I'm glad it's over. Flying was getting tiring.”

Gradkowski started two years at Delaware and was named an American Football Coaches Association FCS All-American last season.

“Gino had a phenomenal year, possibly the best for an offensive lineman that I've seen in my 10 years here at Delaware,” coach K.C. Keeler said.

Unlike Nix, Gradkowski plans a large family get-together at his Dormont home, with his brother, two older sisters, about 20 cousins and his mother's spaghetti.

“If I am lucky enough to have my name called,” he said,

“I definitely want to share it with those guys.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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