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Pitt offensive line remains a work in progress


Most people who coach, play, follow, write about and talk about football for a living will tell you that teams are built from the inside out. Put those offensive and defensive lines in place with good players and much of the heavy lifting is behind you.

That may be the case at Pitt where the defensive line is formidable and the offensive line is manned by three seniors.

Still, the next two weeks are crucial, now that coach Todd Graham has rebuilt the offensive line, with Juantez Hollins, Chris Jacobson, Ryan Turnley, Lucas Nix and Jordan Gibbs lined up, left to right. Three of those players (Hollins, Nix and Gibbs) are in different positions than they were at the outset of camp.

Is that a problem? It doesn’t have to be, but it could be one early in the season.

 A good offensive line needs to work together repeatedly and without disruption before it begins to operate at peak efficiency, and Pitt’s starting five has been together regularly for only one day (Monday).

Pitt has time — nearly two weeks before the first game and four weeks before a difficult one — and there is no reason to believe offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich will have trouble assembling a cohesive unit.

But it’s one thing for Aliquippa grad Juantez Hollins to look good in a scrimmage against his teammates, quite another for him to quell the hatred for the Panthers that  West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin has bubbling inside him.

The reason for the switch, from what I can gather, is this:

Jacobson and Nix are outstanding guards and probably will play those positions at the next level. Pitt is best with those players brawling with defenders in the middle of the line.

The only reason Jacobson and Nix weren’t at guard in the first place is that Hollins and Turnley didn’t develop quickly enough. Turnley had  shoulder surgery over the winter. Hollins, a redshirt sophomore, hasn’t played in a game since 2008 — when he was at Aliquippa.

Leftwich has a lot of work to do, but he has been an offensive line coach at six schools every year since 1989. The line is in good  hands.

— I found it interesting that four players on the line played in the WPIAL and none of them (including Gibbs of Class AAA Penn Manor) came from a Quad A school.

— One note about the backup quarterback battle between walkon freshman Trey Anderson and redshirt freshman Mark Myers:

Anderson, who played in an offensive system at Pearland (Texas) High School that was similar to what Pitt uses, has looked good. He is a tough, little guy with a strong arm. Quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge told me that many times Anderson willed his team to victory.

But will Graham feel comfortable with a freshman who nearly ended up at a junior college backing up Tino Sunseri? Maybe, he will, but I’m still betting on Myers (at least for this year).

— Here’s another example of Graham not backing down from bold proclamations.

Asked about defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has moved ahead of senior Justin Hargrove in the starting lineup, Graham said, “My expectations are for him to be the best in the country.”

Not the team, not the Big East, but the entire USA.

Graham has said repeatedly that kids will rise to whatever standards you set for them. If that’s so, Donald should enjoy an interesting career at Pitt.

— Pitt will hold its annual Fan Fest from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Heinz Field. Players will sign autographs, and there will be free admission, games, music and opportunities to buy tickets and merchandise.

Parking in Gold Lots 1 & 2 is $5.



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