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August 20, 2012Pitt's offensive line in 2012 lost three players with starting experience and returned six who have starting experience, and for line coach Jim Hueber, the task in training camp has been to solidify the top five and develop depth.
To the first goal, Hueber seems to have found his starting five, despite losing redshirt junior tackle Juantez Hollins to a season-long suspension. So far in camp, Pitt has had redshirt sophomore Matt Rotheram at right tackle, redshirt junior Ryan Schlieper at right guard, redshirt senior Ryan Turnley at center, redshirt senior Chris Jacobson at left guard, and redshirt junior Cory King at left tackle. While that group draws most of its starting experience from last season - only Jacobson started a game prior to 2011 - it seems to have come together through the first two weeks of training camp.
That group is also benefiting from the return to a pro-style offense. All five of those players were recruited to play in the pro-style system Pitt had in place from 2005-10, and after a one-year sojourn in the spread, they're back to working on techniques that fit them better.
"I think everyone feels comfortable, not only with the terminology but with the way we're being taught to do it," Turnley said Saturday. "Last year we never really got in a groove at any point; now I think we're starting to find a little rhythm."
But Hueber isn't tasked with just finding a starting five. The veteran offensive line coach has to also develop depth, and that goal has been a bit difficult. In Saturday's scrimmage, freshmen Adam Bisnowaty and Gabe Roberts lined up on the second team at left tackle and left guard, respectively. That put them ahead of veterans like tackles Zenel Demhasaj and Justin Virbitsky and guards Shane Johnson and Arthur Doakes.
Freshmen don't usually make for ideal backups on the offensive line, but Hueber made it clear on Saturday that the upperclassmen have had their shots.
"You know what? They're getting a lot of repetitions, and when we get ready to go to game time, if they're not involved in the two-deep, it will be their fault, not mine," he said. "We can't give them any more repetitions; they're getting as much coaching and as much is being demanded out of them every day as the guys that are with the first group. And if they can't step up and do it, then we're going to move somebody in there that can, or else I'll keep my fingers crossed that we've got five guys (who stay healthy)."
Those four veteran offensive linemen have rotated in with the second team and occasionally seen first-team work in training camp, but Hueber hasn't seen the consistency he is looking for.
"Flashes. Flashes. That's it. Flashes. No elaboration. Flashes."
So Pitt will move into the final week of training camp with the same focal points from the start of camp: solidifying the top five offensive linemen and finding depth. While the coaches hope the starting offensive line stays healthy and consistent all season, the odds are against that happening, which means someone in the reserve will need to step up. Even though the top five linemen look like they might form an effective group, the probable need for suitable backups exists, and finding those backups will be as important as anything Hueber works on in the final week.