By all accounts, former tight end Brian O'Neill was making a smooth transition to the offensive line. In fact, jumping ahead of several guys on the depth chart and looking like a lock for the second team, O'Neill seems to be flat out impressing the coaches.
But his role might not end with the second team. In his first year on the offensive line, O'Neill is challenging the starters. When asked if anyone on the was challenging the starters, it was O'Neill's name that came up.
"Brian [O'Neill] definitely is," said Pat Narduzzi. "O'Neill has done a nice job. He has some great athleticism out there on the field. He's a guy that's raw right now that's just going to continue to get better."
That starter talk sort of became a reality at practice today. Sam Werner of the Post-Gazette says that O'Neill filled in on the first team today while Artie Rowell sat out again (Rowell has been out with an undisclosed injury). If Rowell manages to come back, O'Neill likely goes back to the second team - at least to start the season.
FWIW, Narduzzi hinted that it would be interesting to see his development later in the year. "Comparing him to game one to game six or seven is going to be [interesting]," said the head coach. "He has really bought in and has done a nice job at that tackle position."
His rise is surprising to me on a few levels. First, at tackle, it's hard to imagine someone being able to step right in there and play the more challenging position (as opposed to guard), leapfrogging other guys in the rotation. Second, consider all the work that Paul Chryst put into developing the offensive line. He not only stockpiled talent there but that was seen as his coaching forte. The fact that O'Neill can step in from another position and look better than guys specifically recruited there is kind of an eye-opener.
Also, don't forget that O'Neill wasn't a highly-regarded recruit. He came in to Pitt very much under the radar and this isn't some guy who had the look of an athletic freak that could play a bunch of positions. This one is just out of the blue.
O'Neill backing up first-time starter Alex Bookser at tackle seemed like a potential problem area at first. But now, it sounds as if the coaches are pretty confident he can step in and contribute right away.
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