Pitt offensive line looks different heading into 2013
Both starting tackles now start as guards; more bulk all over
March 8, 2013 10:00 AM
Pitt's Cory King, left, and Shane Johnson participate in spring football drills Tuesday afternoon on the South Side.
Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When asked how he would describe Pitt's first spring practice Tuesday, offensive line coach Jim Hueber simply said it was "first day-ish."
The Panthers still have a long way to go before their Labor Day opener against Florida State, but Hueber, more than most other position coaches, has a lot of questions he needs to answer between now and then.
After being hamstrung by limited numbers last year, the offensive line heads into 2013 with a little bit more flexibility, if not experience. But, when spring practice began, none of the returning starters were playing the same position they played last season
"Feel like we've got more guys than maybe we did last year," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "Whether we feel good, 15 days will tell. I like the way they've been working, and I think that we can create a little bit of competition."
The two returning starters -- tackles Cory King and Matt Rotheram -- have shifted to guard.
They were joined by redshirt freshmen Adam Bisnowaty (left tackle) and Gabe Roberts (center), as well as TJ Clemmings (right tackle), who moved over from defensive end before the bowl game last season.
Behind them, Ryan Schlieper started eight games at guard last year before missing the rest of the season with a foot injury. Hueber said Schlieper still isn't 100 percent, but would be in the mix for both guard spots as well as center.
While it would have been nice to have some continuity heading into the season, Hueber said moving King and Rotheram inside made the most sense. King was recruited as a guard and only played left tackle last season because the Panthers were so desperate.
"I've been told that people criticized the way he played last year," Hueber said.
"I've got to tell you this, I don't know what we'd have done without him."
The biggest reason, Hueber said, was that most defenses have started lining up their best defensive lineman on the inside, increasing the need for size at the guard position. King and Rotheram, at a combined 660 pounds, certainly fit the bill.
King said playing guard feels more natural, but that he took some lessons away from his year at tackle. He felt like a fish out of water at first, but adjusted as the year went on.
"I know what the tackle goes through now," he said. "I know how to help him more because I remember what I thought I needed help with, just technique-wise. I know when to give more, when to help out the tackle a little bit more."
Of course, the other reason the coaches were able to move King inside was the development of Bisnowaty.
After coming in at 270 pounds last year, Bisnowaty said he's up to 305 now, and wants to put on a little more weight before the beginning of the season.
Coaches and teammates alike are high on the former Fox Chapel High School star, but Hueber cautiously noted that adding weight and strength was only part of the equation.
"We haven't put pads on yet, but what we saw in bowl practices and stuff like that, we think that he grew up and matured," Hueber said. "He knows the scheme, he's into it.
"He's got to keep progressing to meet the expectations we have for him -- and I think that he has for himself -- but we feel like he's where he belongs."
Bisnowaty said the older linemen have helped him acclimate to the first-team work, especially King, who played his position last year.
"I really like the core group we've got right now," Bisnowaty said.
"All the guys, we hang out all the time. We're a really tight group, so that makes it even better."
NOTE -- Ray Graham's 40-yard dash time at Pitt's pro day Wednesday was between 4.58 and 4.62 seconds, according to Graham's agent. Each NFL team in attendance had its own time, so the exact number varies. Graham ran a 4.8 in the 40 at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last month.