In the world of Pitt Athletics, there are two dueling factions: those who look for the silver lining and those who think the sky is falling. This is their column.
*insert Law&Order dun dun here*
This week’s topic is the offensive line. In football, if you control the line of scrimmage, you will win consistently. It’s not rocket science. Take a look at Alabama. Sure they’ve had immensely talented RBs and WRs, but those guys have it easy because the OL is dominant. RBs aren’t touched until they’re 4 yards down the field; WRs have 3+ seconds to run their routes. For Pitt, with an OL that appears to essentially have 5 new starters, the success of this unit could determine the fate of the 2013 season.
Chas called the OL the 4th biggest concern in his Camp Opens series but he apparently is optimistic:
On the rest of the line, it looks surprisingly stable. Technically there is a battle at the center spot between Gabe Roberts and Artie Rowell, but Roberts was clearly the guy from the spring at center. Despite converting from a tackle spot.
I’m going with optimism. I like the job O-line Coach Jim Hueber is doing, and I feel confident that Coach Chryst and OC Joe Rudolph does more than simply say that they need the O-line to do well.
If they live up to potential, they could lead us to an 8 or 9 win season. If they struggle, we’ll need RG3 at QB in order to make any plays. Let’s let the two sides battle it out!
The Optimist: Yes, the OL is going to technically have 5 guys who aren’t playing a position they played last year, but the reason for the change is improvement. Cory King is moving from LT to LG because Adam Bisnowaty is a blue chip talent. We’re upgrading both positions with the move. King is better suited inside because he doesn’t have the athleticism (especially the feet) to play LT. Biz does. If King does his job at LG and Biz plays to his talent level, the left side of the OL will be winning most of their battles. I expect to see a lot of big runs come from the left side.
On the right side, we have a similar situation, although the upgrade at RT probably won’t be as much as at LT. Last year, Matt Rotheram was at RT and he’s kicking in to RG. Replacing him at RT will be the winner of the most important training camp battle. At the moment, it’s between RS Junior TJ Clemmings, Freshman Dorian Johnson, and RS Senior Juantez Hollins. Clemmings was a DE who switched to the offensive side of the ball this offseason, Johnson is possibly the most talented incoming freshman, and Hollins is coming off of a season long suspension and his status still remains uncertain.
No matter who wins, they should be better than Rotheram at RT based purely on athletic ability. What’s important as well is that they are not protecting the QB’s blind side. Savage is a righty and if Clemmings or Johnson struggle, it’ll be with pass proteciton. Run blocking is much more straight forward in the Chryst scheme. Given that I expect us to run the ball 55% of the time or more, this should be alleviated with a consistent rushing attack. Last year’s RBs averaged 4.6 YPC. Isaac Bennett actually had the highest YPC of any RB last year (4.9).
The last quesiton on the OL is Center. The battle appears to be between RS Freshman Gabe Roberts and RS Sophomore Artie Rowell. If any position on the OL should be concerning, it’s here. Center is a very cerebral position. Roberts is the front runner and worst case scenario, RS Senior Ryan Schlieper, last year’s starter at RG, can possibly step in. At worst, this position will be equal to last year. The coaches are very high on Roberts and if he’s an upgrade over last year, we’re in good shape.
Overall, there’s a ton of talent on the OL and if they can gel and live up to standards, they’ll be a team strength for years to come. There’s only one senior pegged to start, but there are 2 or 3 guys who have 4 years of eligibility left.
The Pessimist: Two of the keys of solid OL play is familiarity and consistency. With 5 new starters, none of them are familiar with the guy next to him. Let’s say FSU blitzes a LB through the A gap (between Center and OG) on a passing play. Whose responsibility is the LB on that play? Well, that depends on the DL formation and the play call. It could be the Center, OG, or the RB. If you’ve got a RS Freshman at Center and a guy who played OT last year, you’ve got 2 guys who may not know the assignments. The result? One scared QB.
Talent can only get you so far on OL. Sure, you can line up and block the guy in front of you, but its’ rarely that simple. We saw last year what happens when an OL doesn’t gel quickly in the YSU game. Outside of a 22 yard run, Ray Graham averaged 3.7 yards yer carry against AN FCS SCHOOL. Now imagine a top 15 team across the line of scrimmage. There will be 3 guys on the OL who have never played at the collegiate level there. Last year’s OL was more experienced and it took them 2 embarassments until they put together a good game against VT. If it takes this squad any longer we could start October with 3 losses headed on the road to a VT team eager for revenge. If it takes until VT to get going again, the Compass Bowl would be a better than this team deserves.
Sure, this group should be good enough to handle New Mexico, Duke, and Old Dominion. That, however, assumes our QBs and RBs survive FSU. FSU has a DT with 1st round potential. Do you think the OL is ready for that in Week 1? Doubtful. Thankfully FSU does not appear to have any experienced pass rushers (Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner went to the NFL), so maybe that’ll help Savage survive if he can avoid interior pressure.
Verdict: So what do yinz think? Will the OL struggle early on and be a liability or will they quickly become a strength in 2013?