Panther-lair - Bookser digs into new roles this spring
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Bookser digs into new roles this spring

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One day this offseason, Alex Bookser walked into Pitt’s South Side cafeteria as a guard and he walked out a tackle.

That’s more or less the way it happened.

“Coach Narduzzi came in the cafeteria and said, ‘Are you ready to play tackle?’” Bookser recalled on Tuesday morning after Pitt’s second practice of spring camp 2018.

Of course, Bookser wasn’t strictly a guard when he walked into the cafeteria that day. In his four seasons at Pitt, he has played both right guard and right tackle. Most of his 26 career starts have been at right guard - 21, to be exact - but he also has five starts at right tackle on his resume, and that’s the position he was recruited to play.

Bookser even made three starts at right tackle as recently as last season, stepping in for three consecutive games - Georgia Tech, Rice and Syracuse - when inconsistency on the edge left the coaches looking for answers.

Now, with three players who lined up at tackle last season leaving the team (Jaryd Jones-Smith and Brandon Hodges were out of eligibility and Brian O’Neill went to the NFL), the coaches were once again in need of an answer at tackle. Kent State grad transfer Stefano Millin should take over at left tackle, but the opening at right tackle had Bookser’s name on it.

And that’s fine with the redshirt senior from Mt. Lebanon.

“I’m there right now and for as long as they want me there, I’ll be playing there,” he said. “Same thing I always say.”

Right tackle isn’t the only role Bookser is taking on this spring, though. He is one of two redshirt seniors in the offensive line room. He’s the only fifth-year lineman with more than one career start (guard Mike Herndon started one game last season). And he’s also the only lineman whose starting experience extends beyond 2017 (center Jimmy Morrissey started every game last year in his first active season).

So it’s safe to say that Bookser will be counted on to do more than just block.

“I definitely have to embrace more of a leadership role,” he said. “Having a younger group - only me and Jimmy being the returning guys - I’m definitely trying to help people out and be a little bit more of a leader than I have in the past.

“I’ll be the first one to tell you, I haven’t always done as much as I can for the younger guys and I haven’t been as mature as I need to be. But I’m trying to embrace that and transform into a leader.”

Along with the departures of O’Neill, Hodges and Jaryd Jones-Smith, Pitt also lost guard Alex Officer this past offseason, creating three open starting jobs and a dearth of experience in the offensive line room.

For Bookser, that also means a lot of new faces, like JUCO transfer Chase Brown, early-enrolling freshman Jake Kradel and the others who will arrive this summer, plus the familiar faces who will be in prominent roles this season.

“The biggest thing I worry about is, most of the guys I came in with are gone now, so what’s it going to be like?” Bookser said. “But if anything left, it’s been replaced with guys competing every day. There’s so much competition in the room and so many people fighting for jobs and so many people trying to learn as much as they can and be the best the best players they can, that anything that was lost in the past year, we’re already gaining back because everybody in there is fighting for a spot. It’s exciting to watch.”

Bookser is excited about the potential of the line, but he also knows that question marks exist due to the personnel changes and the uncertainty of the players the team will be relying on. Still, he’s got a simple rationalization for his confidence.

“Because we play for Pitt,” Bookser said. “It’s odd having a question mark on the offensive line because that’s been the one thing since I’ve been here that we’ve been able to hang our hat on. But I have confidence that we’ve got the right guys, we’ve got the coaching and we’ve got the legacy; all we have to do is try to live up to it. So I’m not worried about the questions marks; I’m confident that we’ll be coached to where we need to be.”