INDIANAPOLIS – Lucas Nix, the 6-5, 317-pound guard from Pitt, sat down at the media table at the NFL Combine as if he had just come from a scene in “The Deer Hunter.”
Nix is Western PA through and through, and the fact he was spitting dark juice into a bottle seemed to unnerve a young, well-dressed reporter with “New England Patriots” emblazoned across his microphone.
“You’re spitting into a bottle,” the reporter said with a concerned look. “Is that chewing tobacco?”
“Yeah. I actually have a chew in now,” Nix said with a hearty laugh.“Aren’t you concerned that teams see that?” asked the reporter.
“Uh, not yet,” Nix said. “Most people can’t notice. As long as I’m not spitting I’m all right.”
Sure. Just swallow the stuff during the BIG interviews.
One of those occurred Wednesday night when Nix sat down for a talk with Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler.
“I thought it went pretty well,” Nix said. “I was born and raised a Steelers fan. It’s exciting to even have an interview with them. I’m pretty pumped about it.”
Nix was born 22½ years ago in the Borough of Jefferson Hills in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. He prepped at Thomas Jefferson High and led the Jaguars to two PIAA state championship and three WPIAL regional championships as a defensive tackle and offensive right tackle.
There are stories of Nix demanding that his coach, former Pitt O-lineman Bill Cherpak, call running plays behind him on every important snap, even when there were 14 or so important snaps in a row.
“Yeah, they seemed to stick to my side,” Nix said. “The same with defense: I was always the one eating up the double or triple teams. Either way I’d like to think I was the cornerstone of those state championships.”
Like his coach before him, Nix went to Pitt where he played right tackle for two-plus seasons. He was moved to right guard in the third game of his junior season, but didn’t care because he loved playing anywhere in Dave Wannstedt’s offense.
And then everything changed with the hiring of Todd Graham and his “high octane” offense.
“At first when we got the new coach everyone was excited,” Nix said. “Learning the new system was exciting and challenging at the same time. But as the season went on there was definitely frustration. Whether we weren’t buying into the system or we didn’t know what was going on, we were struggling and we weren’t used to that. Frustration came out of that.”
Nix explained how the pre-snap reads had disappeared from the offense and that “it was simplified to the point where we got to the line and you ran pretty much the same play with five or six variations of it. It was definitely different. It introduced me to something new. I think I learned from it.”
Nix played well in big, early-season games against Iowa and Notre Dame. He made mistakes, including a handful of false starts against the Irish, but also flashed glimpses of one of his heroes, Alan Faneca, the guard with the tackle’s body who could pull and mow down linebackers and safeties with seeming ease.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Nix said with a laugh. “One of my favorite things is putting my hand down and flying off the ball. In college, me and my offensive linemen used a quote from Russ Grimm’s Hall of Fame speech: ‘The greatest thing is moving someone against their will from Point A to Point B.’ And talking to (Grimm) the other night, that’s all line play is, being able to move someone, putting someone where they don’t want to be. You’ve got to take every play as a challenge.”
Nix was doing that last season up until the South Florida game when he dislocated his kneecap and missed the next five games. Nix returned late for Pitt’s dismal finish, and after the season was cited for public drunkenness after coming to the aid of his brother Nate, who was embroiled in a skirmish with a long-time acquaintance.
Nix believes the charges will be dropped in March and said NFL personnel men don’t seem to be making much of a fuss over the mistake.
Not that it’s going to matter much in the second, third or fourth round with people such as Grimm and Buffalo’s associate head coach, a guy by the name of Wannstedt, in Nix’s corner.
“Playing for coach Wannstedt was great in college,” Nix said. “He’s a real good guy and a player’s coach. I’ve grown to appreciate what he did for me over the years, how he cared for his players. He never threw them under the bus. It was always coaching first: correcting things, it’s not their fault. It opened my eyes last year when people were so easy to throw our quarterback under the bus.”
Speaking of NFL interest, it hasn’t been lost on Nix that the Steelers start two undrafted players at their guard spots and – with the expected release of Chris Kemoeatu – have little to no depth behind them.
“It’s something I think about,” Nix said. “Really, that’s something my family brings up to me. Both sides of my family are diehard fans of the Steelers. So it doesn’t matter where I go because they’re not going to root for my team. They’re going to root for the Steelers.”
And more than likely they’ll be spitting dark juice into a bottle while they do.
(Read the complete transcript of Lucas Nix's interview here on the SteelCityInsider.net message board.)