Pitt Football: Turnley, Jacobson at center of key battle

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A spread offense has a lot of moving parts, and while Pitt is starting to synchronize the complexities of their new offensive scheme at training camp this week, they are spending just as much time on one position that is easy to take for granted: the man snapping the ball.

After practice Friday, head coach Todd Graham addressed the uncertainty around the center position, but the decision to start Ryan Turnley or Chris Jacobson won't be made until next week, Graham said.

"Turnley has looked very good at center and so has Jacobson, so we will see how that progresses and I think that's kind of the position battle we are looking at," Graham. said

The Panthers lost a fifth-year senior, Alex Karabin, and are hoping that Turnley, a junior, can successfully switch from guard to center despite him never playing the position. Being able to plug Turnley into the position would be the most efficient use of talent on the line for the Panthers.

"When we got here, there was kind of a hole there to fill," offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich said. "The No. 1 goal is to put the five best out there. Right now, we're just trying to look at different combinations, but it all starts where you snap the ball."

Should Turnley not fill the bill, fifth-year senior Jacobson, who spent time at center in the spring, would take the job. Ideally, the Panthers would like to keep Jacobson at guard, where he started last season. Leftwich considered putting Turnley at guard earlier in the week, but said Friday that Turnley will remain a center -- starter or not.

Such a decision is rooted in the Leftwich's confidence in the Panthers' depth. He believes players such as sophomore Cory King and redshirt freshman Matt Rotheram can step into interior positions, which would allow Turnley to focus on center.

"There's enough bodies right now that we don't have to sit there and make somebody the guy," he said. "We can let it play out. We have enough pieces to play around with and look at. It's not a panic mode, it's not a 'world's over' kind of deal."

Turnley must focus on the intricacies of his new position, which requires him to identify linebackers and call out defensive fronts. He also must adjust his blocking techniques, particularly for running plays, as a result of having to lean back in his stance more than as a guard.

Making such changes while learning Graham's fast-paced system that has a goal of snapping the ball 15 seconds after it is spotted, adds yet another aspect to the learning process. It's quite a challenge, but he is taking an enthusiastic and studious approach to the task.

"[Coach Leftwich] is teaching me how to be efficient with some of the things you have to do at center as opposed to what you have to do at guard," Turnley said. "I feel like I'm being pushed a lot and I like that and want to continue to be pushed because I have to get better. And if I continue to get better every day, then I'll be all right."

Leftwich said Turnley needs to show some consistency over the next week of workouts to earn the No. 1 spot. That means a reliable snap, good footwork and good technique in pass- and run-blocking.

The snap has been an issue this week in team drills, and Graham was not pleased when Turnley failed to get the ball cleanly to quarterback Tino Sunseri at one point in team drills. Later, plays went without a hitch, indicating Turnley just needs more repetitions.

Coaches are looking to a closed scrimmage Sunday as an important opportunity to evaluate the centers and hope to form more specific plans by Wednesday.

"There's enough bodies right now that we don't have to sit there and make somebody the guy. It's not a panic mode, it's not a 'world's over' kind of deal."

Charlie Magovern: 412-263-1466, cmagovern@post-gazette.com and Twitter@cmagovern.


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