Young Pitt lineman getting snaps

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While watching Pitt practice, it's hard to miss redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith.

The offensive lineman is one of the Panthers' most physically imposing players, standing at 6 feet 7 and weighing 295 pounds. He also has been one of the key figures this spring.

With Adam Bisnowaty -- who started eight games at left tackle last year -- out because of a lingering back injury, Jones-Smith has taken nearly every snap at left tackle with the first team.

There's no doubt that Jones-Smith has the physical tools to be a successful offensive lineman, with an impressive frame and long arms. He was a three-star prospect according to, and chose the Panthers over schools such as Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Offensive line coach Jim Hueber, though, was quick to caution that he's still only going through his first spring practice as a college football player.

"His problem is the demand on him to do it right every time, it's not there," Hueber said. "It's not there for high school guys, it's not there for scout team guys that are running off of cards. He has to be in tune with the guy playing next to him, so sometimes when he gets off-kilter it hurts us a little bit."

Bisnowaty returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, and all indications point to him being ready to go by the time summer conditioning rolls around. If he's healthy, he'll almost certainly reclaim his role with the first team.

A leadership gap

One of the biggest questions heading into the 2014 season will be how Pitt fills the leadership void left by departed seniors such as Aaron Donald, Devin Street and Tom Savage. Part of the problem is that the players who would be seniors or redshirt seniors this year, signed while the Panthers were going through coaching turmoil in 2010 and 2011, and many are no longer with the team. Of the 44 players who signed in 2010 and 2011, only 14 still are on the roster.

Coach Paul Chryst pointed to senior Ray Vinopal, who transferred to Pitt from Michigan, as a possible leader next year. "I think every team, at some point you're going to have a vocal leader or two, doesn't matter what class it comes from. I think this senior class is small, but it can have a big impact on the leadership. We've got to get something from it."

Offensive line progressing

While Hueber hasn't had the depth he would like at offensive line the past two seasons, he said the attitude and work ethic of his group has improved tremendously since he arrived. There has been plenty of attrition the past few years, but some of that might have ended up being addition by subtraction.

"When we came in here, there was a reason we got hired and it wasn't because this was utopia," Hueber said. "I think we fought through that. We had kids that didn't want to buy in to our way. You look around now, there's not much [complaining] and moaning, there's not many guys missing. We don't have the problems that we had before."

Sam Werner: and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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