There was some optimism that Carter Warren would be able to make it back to the lineup following Pitt’s bye week, but it was decided just yesterday that he will be out the remainder of the season — ending his Pitt career.
“Carter Warren, I mean, I can’t thank him enough for all the efforts he’s made,” Pat Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “It’s sad to think that he’s played his last ball game, you know, in that Pitt uniform. I don’t even want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about it.
“That’s why he’s tried so hard. He’s tried to rehab it, tried to get back. It doesn’t feel good enough. And we need to get him prepared for his next journey in the NFL. It’s only fair for him to be able to do that. So disappointed to hear that.”
Pitt’s long-time left tackle, a team captain and All-ACC performer, will immediately begin his rehab and preparation for the 2023 NFL Draft, and Pitt will immediately look to fill the void on the field left by Warren’s 6-foot-5, 325-pound absence. It just so happens Pitt has a 6-foot-5, 320-pounder waiting in the wings.
Branson Taylor has grown from a reserve offensive lineman during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh into a starting caliber left tackle, and that’s exactly what he will be going forward.
“It’ll be (Taylor),” Narduzzi said. “I mean, we have a three-man race right now. I mean, you got him, you’ve got Gabe (Houy) and (Matt) Goncalves. Those are your three guys — the three-man rotation.”
Houy started nine games at right tackle and three at right guard last season, and he missed basically the entire offseason as he rehabbed from injury, but he’s finally healthy entering the back half of the schedule. He’s going to be the right tackle going forward.
Goncalves started five games at right tackle last season and has filled at right tackle through the first half of this season, and while he’s also rotated in at left tackle at times this season, he’s destined for an often-used depth role.
“I don’t remember if (Goncalves) did or not at left tackle,” Narduzzi said. “But, yeah, he’s — he can play left tackle. Yeah, Matt can play both. Matt will be the swing guy, if anything. Gabe would be right. We wouldn’t mess — you know, Matt would definitely be our swing guy.”
|Total Snaps||Left Tackle||Right Tackle|
Houy is in his last season as a Pitt offensive lineman, but Taylor and Goncalves are the future of the position going forward. Taylor and Goncalves each will return next season and compete for spots on the offensive line and joining them will be Ryan Baer.
Baer, Pitt’s top-ranked recruit in the class of 2022, is just a true freshman. He may have enrolled early and boast the size (6-foot-7, 335 pounds) required for the position, but it would be very uncommon to slot into the starting lineup as a freshman. However, he impressed all offseason and will need to be prepared going forward this season.
“Baer’s got to be ready to go,” Narduzzi said. “He’s one play away. We’d like to redshirt him. We think he’s going to be really good. He’s going to be a lot better next year than he is this year.
“But Ryan Baer is another guy that, you know, that’s getting reps every day with the ones and the twos just to get him prepared. Because you never know when you’re going to — you know, you’re one snap away from him being a guy that’s playing significant football for you.”
Even if Narduzzi wants to preserve Baer’s redshirt this season, it would not be at all surprising if Baer sees time later this season since he’s able to see time in four games this season.
But in Pitt’s immediate future, the offensive line will be bookended by Taylor and Houy, with Goncalves rotating in when needed. The health of Oxen Drexel will be key in determining the further alignment of the line.
If healthy, Drexel will slide back into the starting center slot. Jake Kradel has filled in over the last handful of games, but he will slide back to right guard, completing Marcus Minor on the left side. And Blake Zubovic, who has filled in at right tackle and served as a sixth lineman this season, will be the top reserve inside.
It’s obvious that losing a team’s top lineman, as Warren has been for Pitt, is a serious issue. But Pitt now has the chance to integrate a new starter into the lineup. And Pitt has preached all season how the No. 2 offensive line unit is more than capable of starting when called upon. Taylor has started a couple of games now, and that will continue going forward.
Left Tackle — Branson Taylor – Matt Goncalves
Left Guard — Marcus Minor – Blake Zubovic
Center — Owen Drexel – Terrence Moore
Right Guard — Jake Kradel – Blake Zubovic
Right Tackle — Gabe Houy – Matt Goncalves
Warren is now part of the past of Pitt football, that’s the reality of a quick-moving college football landscape. His veteran presence isn’t gone, but he will not play another game in a Pitt uniform. Minor, Drexel and Houy are in their final seasons. Goncalves, (and maybe) Kradel and Zubovic form a bridge and Taylor, Baer and Moore paint a picture of the future.
Pitt’s offensive line is slowly shifting toward the future.