I have a dream. It’s been the same dream since this blog began. A dream of a solid O-line that does not feel as if plugged in spots with just a warm body. An O-line that inspires confidence, not concern. Oh, so briefly it appeared Pitt was getting there in 2008, but injuries showed the lack of depth. 2009, was the peak, but that quickly faded in 2010.
Now we stand at the beginning of the 2011 season, and at least the starters (for now) have been named.
Redshirt sophomore Juantez Hollins of Aliquippa has played his way onto the line at left tackle, moving Jordan Gibbs to right tackle and Lucas Nix of Thomas Jefferson to his more natural position of right guard.
Hopewell’s Ryan Turnley has won the center job, allowing Keystone Oaks’ Chris Jacobson to play left guard.
The signs had been there for the over a week that Coach Graham was going to keep Turnley at Center and have Jacobson go back to left guard.
All the first team practices had Turnley at Center. Jacobson’s only times playing center was with the second team. Again, this was not a surprise.While Jacobson might be a little better than Turnley at Center, he was far superior to any other option at left guard.
The disappointing — but unfortunately not that surprising — thing is that Gaskins did not win the starting job at tackle. After watching Gaskins struggle badly for the first month of 2010, I can’t say I’m upset by this. Juantez Hollins gets the nod after a very good camp.
“We are excited about the development of the offensive line,” Graham said. “Juantez Hollins had a really good scrimmage. We have good competition there. I like how we are developing our depth. [Hollins] is our starter right now. We went into the scrimmage with [Greg] Gaskins as the starter but came out with Hollins.
“Right now I feel like Hollins is a little ahead from a run blocking standpoint, while Gaskins is a little bit ahead from a pass blocking standpoint. The good thing about that, we feel good about where those guys’ development is. [Hollins as the starter] is how we will rep it all week.
“The two-deep is pretty much set and now we are working toward [the opener].”
Now that the Panthers have begun to work on their game plan for the Bulls, there isn’t likely to be much, if any, more movement on the depth chart.
Gaskins will be the third tackle, which means he is the first tackle off the bench, and the first guard off the bench will be redshirt sophomore Cory King, who until about a week ago was the starting right guard. Jacobson will be the backup center.
The first team had seven players competing. I would love for the entire second team to be ready to step in when called upon, but that is unrealistic right now. At the moment having two primary back-ups and the rest of the second team getting work during the season — hopefully to get closer to ready. Matt Rotheram and Arthur Doakes hopefully will get better as they continue to learn and practice.
One of the keys for Hollins to winning the starting gig — draining his right knee.
“I was trying to keep up with everybody even though it was hurting,” Hollis said of his knee. “I’ve been fighting through it. It loosened it up. I can bend it now. I can move better.”
Said coach Todd Graham, “All of a sudden, he got his knee drained, he got a smile on his face, and he’s looking impressive. He’s competing for a starting role.”
One interesting thing that came out of the competition for the O-line starting spots, is that it actually was a competition. I’m not saying that there was some residual cynicism from the competitions of the previous regime — okay, I am. It definitely was noticeable in the blog notes from P-G beat writer Paul Zeise. His perspective on competition — especially with the O-line — early in camp:
I know they say all the things on the record about ongoing competition and how important that is – but every coach I’ve ever talked to —- and this is my 12th year covering college football with seven different coaches (Ron Dickerson, Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez, Walt Harris, the former coach of this team and the Dolphins, Michael Haywood - well, for at least a few weeks – and Todd Graham) —— has told me, they want to get the offensive line settled as quickly as possible in camp because that unit takes the most time to come together and needs as many reps as possible as a unit. So my guess is, this unit will be put together by early next week and the guys will remain in place at least through the first game.
To the reality after almost an entire training camp:
Let’s try to make some sense of this stuff but keep in mind this — Todd Graham and company are really big about “earning your spot every day” as well as keeping the competition as heated as possible (Keith Patterson told me “we like to move guys around so they don’t get comfortable, stir the pot a little” - so while we have a really good idea about who is going to start, Graham was never fully committed to anyone at some of the spots that were up for grabs late last week.
I know I’m a little surprised they waited this long to settle the line. And while the 2-deep seems mostly set all over, a lot of it seems subject to revision.
This is not a bad thing. Especially after some obvious complacency last year.