Malecki A Big Hit

Malecki A Big Hit

If you've ever had a broken arm, limiting its use for a while, then you know how sophomore defensive tackle John Malecki spent his entire first season with the Pitt football team.

And John Malecki didn't play too badly, either, with 11 total tackles and one behind the line in 12 games, despite performing more often than not with a badly dislocated left shoulder. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Malecki isn't making any excuses, but he shouldn't need to because playing with limited to no range of motion in one arm just isn't the best way for a lineman to succeed.

And make no mistake. Malecki will be a successful defensive tackle for the University of Pittsburgh football team.

"I feel good about how John has progressed from last season, and he certainly has been a lot better than the spring because he was out rehabbing his shoulder,'' Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said during a recent training camp practice. "So, this is a good chance to look at him. ... We want to see what he can do now that he's healthy.''

That's why Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and Gattuso moved Malecki into a starting role next to junior Gus Mustakas on the Panthers interior line on defense. Despite missing the entire spring after shoulder surgery, Malecki blasted past junior incumbent starter Rashaad Duncan.

"It's nice for me to get back in the swing of things, and it's a lot different from last year because I'm a hundred times more healthy,'' Malecki said. "So, things are going a lot better with my shoulder, and I'm not hesitating as much as I was before because of that since I have the brace off.

"I just did everything that Buddy told me to do. I rehabbed twice a day, doing whatever I needed to get better and to be able to help the team out this year. Now, I can engage (a blocker) with both hands without any hesitation or any pain whatsoever, and it's been about a year since I could do that.''

Malecki had banged up his shoulder in high school for Franklin Regional in Murrysville, Pa., but he really injured it badly during the Big 33 camp after his senior year. Then, he dislocated it again during Pitt's training camp, and it was never that good throughout the season. But instead of in-season surgery, which would have forced a redshirt year, Malecki opted to play.

"When you have a major injury like I did with my shoulder, it can really weigh on you,'' Malecki said. "It hurts, and your concerned about that. But you don't want to play bad or hurt your team's chances, so you try to do what you can do to push through it. But, for me, it was always nagging at me.

"So, when you think about it, it should be interesting to see how well I can do now that I can use two arms. That was the biggest problem I had last year, because my left one was pretty much useless. But that's all in my past, I hope, and I'm just looking forward to moving ahead this season.''

Malecki is a big guy, but Wannstedt and Gattuso don't want him to play at the weight he was last season. At his heaviest, Malecki played at about 295 pounds, but his intensive rehab during the spring knocked more than 20 pounds off him. He said he fluctuates between 268-273 now and has maintained that. And thus far during training camp, Malecki looks great.

Before saying that's too light, remember that Mustakas is 6-3, 275, and he's been fairly successful thus far as well. And coming off the bench, Gattuso can go with 6-2, 290-pound Tommie Duhart, the 6-2, 295-pound Duncan, 6-1, 290-pound Mick Williams or 6-3, 290-pound Craig Bokor. So, Pitt does have several options at defensive tackle this season.

"John's done a lot for himself, a complete change in body type, and we're going to give him a chance to go out there and play,'' Gattuso said. "We'd like to think that we're going to get to a point with this group where we can roll them a bit. Rashaad and Mick are working hard on their conditioning.

"Bokor is as well-conditioned an athlete as we have, and Duhart fits physically at D-tackle. His speed fits inside, too. Myles Caragein will get a look inside, along with Ty Tkach, who has bulked up a bit in the offseason. So, we have a lot of talent there, but we don't have much experience in our depth.''

But with talent like Malecki and Mustakas inside up front, Pitt should be better equipped to stop the run this season. And since he's lighter, quicker, stronger and more flexible, Malecki believes he can make more plays than ever. But don't expect him to leap over a blocker to get to the quarterback.

"I'd rather run over the guy,'' Malecki said.

And now that he's playing with two good arms, that should be a lot easier.

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