Pitt's offensive line provides upfront leadership

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If nothing else, credit Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber for being honest.

For pretty much all of training camp, his starting five has been the most consistent position unit on the team. Virtually every team drill has Cory King, Chris Jacobson, Ryan Turnley, Ryan Schlieper and Matt Rotheram with the first unit.

Hueber would like to keep it that way.

"I'm not going to lie to anybody. We're like a lot of teams around the country. When we decide on five guys, that's the five guys we want to play," Hueber said. "You don't want to have to play anybody else. And I know you're hoping against hope that that'll happen over 12 games, but that's where we want to be."

That's not to say Hueber doesn't want to develop depth. As he said, the Panthers are certainly going to need it at some point along the way if a starter goes down with injury.

Still, Jacobson said that having the same five guys on the field every snap has helped the offensive line develop a strong rapport over the course of training camp.

"With [Jacobson] there, I know how he's going to do things and he knows how I'm going to do things," King said. "Throw somebody else in there, they kind of have some different tendencies. That could lead to some big problems. We know how each other play, and that's big."

The starting five have a combined 99 games of experience, and fifth-year seniors Jacobson and Turnley lead the way with more than 30 career games apiece.

Jacobson said Hueber often preaches that leadership on offense starts with the five guys on the line.

"Up front, as the offensive line, we've improved every day, and we're going to be as good as our front five are," Jacobson said.

Those five will be faced with a new task this season in new coach Paul Chryst's switch to a pro-style offense. It will likely be more run-heavy than last year's spread attack, and allow linemen to be more physical.

King said the offense involves a lot of zone blocking on running plays, but mixes in man-blocking concepts fairly often. "We know the techniques, our coaches have done a great job teaching us techniques," he said. "Really, they just feel like plays because you know your techniques."

While the starting five may be locked down, other players have had chances to show off their talent to the coaching staff. On Monday, redshirt freshman Artie Rowell mixed in at center on the first team for a good part of practice. "[It's] getting people ready just in case they have to come in," King said.

On the second unit, freshman Adam Bisnowaty, a Fox Chapel High School graduate, has seen most of the snaps at left tackle. Fellow rookie Gabe Roberts also has mixed in at guard on the second team.

Hueber stressed that those players will get just as many looks as the five presumed starters.

"When we get ready to go to game time, if they're not involved in the two-deep, it'll be their fault, not mine," he said. "We can't give them any more repetitions. They're getting as much coaching, and as much is being demanded out of them every day as the guys that are with the first group."

NOTE -- Senior running back Ray Graham returned to practice Monday after missing most of last week. Graham is still recovering from ACL surgery in his right knee that cost him the final five games of last season. He remains optimistic that he'll be ready for Pitt's opener Sept. 1 against Youngstown State. "It's not going to feel the same as my left leg until my confidence gets up," Graham said. "As I always say, it's still a mental thing and I'm still getting over that hump of dealing with the injury." pittfball


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