The practice reports Justin filed have already given us a lot of insight into Pitt’s offensive line. The left side with Adam Bisnowaty and Cory King is stronger in run support. The line actually has some depth this year. I don’t want to say I feel good about the O-line, but I feel a lot better about than I have for the first time since 2009.
The depth helps. It means guys like Cory King and Matt Rotheram are able to play at their guard positions. Where they fit best and are much more comfortable.
After they moved from tackle to guard — where their wide bodies are better suited — the expectations also are bigger.
“If you ask Cory,” Hueber said, “he is happy he doesn’t have to worry about those wide rushes (from the defensive ends).”
When told about the move at the end of last season, King admitted, “It was kind of relief.”
Rotheram played both positions as a redshirt freshman in 2011 before suffering a season-ending ankle fracture at midseason. He played tackle last season because Pitt had a manpower shortage, but he understands guard is where he belongs.
“At tackle, sometimes you are on an island, and it’s not as good to be a big-body guy out there,” he said. “I did what I had to do to get on the field and put our team in the best position to win.”
Both guards are of the size and bulk that Coach Chryst wants on the offensive line.
That size on either side of the center is likely a factor in Artie Rowell having an increased chance of being the starting center despite being “undersized.”
At 6 feet 2, Rowell seems better suited for a spread offense that has him moving around more, but Hueber said he added 35 pounds since coach Paul Chryst’s staff arrived in 2012 and has become a viable option in Pitt’s pro-style offense.
“Here’s a guy that came in, really didn’t know what to expect from us,” Hueber said. “I talked to him, told him it’s going to be hard to play with the style of offense we’re playing if you’re going to be 270 pounds. Now he’s about 305, he’s the first guy here, he studies tape, he’s done everything he could do to put him in a position to compete and a chance to run with the ones.”
Rowell said he knew it would take a little extra hard work to fit into the offense, but didn’t shy away from the challenge.
“When adversity hits you, what are you going to do, run away from it?” Rowell said. “Or are you going to stand up to it and fight it?”
The thing to remember is that Rowell wasn’t recruited for the spread, though, he was recruited by Dave Wannstedt. They knew at the time that he wasn’t “ideal” for the spot. But, as we are learning from the way he has worked, practiced and trained — he has a hell of a will to play. Perhaps even more importantly, he is still the only player on the team that actually was experienced in high school at playing center, and played center well.
That knowledge of the position and drive to know more is making a difference.
“He’s the first guy here (in the morning),” Hueber said. “He studies tape. He’s done everything he could do to put himself into a position to compete.”
The competition will continue through practice Saturday at Heinz Field to the last week of camp that runs through Thursday.
“Gabe is big. He has a chance to be a real physical player,” Hueber said of the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Roberts, who never played center until this spring.
“Artie bends a lot better, probably runs a little bit better for some of the stuff we are doing. And both of them have done a good job in pass protection.”
Coach Paul Chryst, who recruited Roberts last year, appreciates what Rowell has accomplished to this point.
“He’s a smart guy, smart enough to know what you need to do to get better,” he said.
It’s still not clear who will be the starting center. Roberts got to practice with the first team yesterday. This doesn’t appear to be a case where Coach Chryst is just saying there is a competition while already knowing the answer. There is a legitimate question at this spot.
Where there doesn’t appear to be a competition any longer is at the right tackle, where T.J. Clemmings has all but officially locked down the starting job.
Clemmings, though, saw the work he put in over the spring and summer start to pay off.
“I would say I’ve come a long way,” he said. “Still got a long ways to go, but, from spring until now, I feel like I’ve had a big improvement as far as football IQ and what’s going on on the field.
“Really knowing or understanding what I’m looking at, what’s going on, so, when I come out on the field, I can continue to play fast, because you can’t play fast if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s my main thing.”
Clemmings’ progress might allow the coaching staff to give [Dorian] Johnson a valuable redshirt year. Even though he’s likely able to play right away, it never hurts to give an offensive lineman an extra year of strength and conditioning. And, while Clemmings seems like a good bet to be the starting right tackle for Pitt’s season opener Sept. 2 against Florida State, he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m never going to feel like I’ve done enough,” he said. “I want to keep improving more and more everyday. Really, there’s never any job that feels secure.”
Juantez Hollins, who was suspended all of last year, has not been able to reclaim the starting job. Hollins can play at either tackle position.
Basically Pitt actually has some depth at tackle, guard (Ryan Schlieper) and center. And unlike the last couple years, it isn’t the same player at all three spots. What an odd concept.