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Hulking pair of Pitt linemen pleased with move to guard

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 2:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Cory King is among the big bodies on the offensive line.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt offensive lineman Matt Rotheram plays against Rutgers in November at Heinz Field.

Pitt senior left guard Cory King stands out in a crowd when he walks among his peers on the practice fields.

Now imagine him on a basketball court, where the players are shorter, thinner and perhaps unaccustomed to the chaos King can cause with his mammoth frame.

King, who played both sports at Lakeview High School in Mercer County, smiles at the memory, trying not to appear sinister.

“We had a special play where the point guard would bring the ball down, and I stood at half-court and tried to pick him,” King said. “A lot of times, (the defender) wouldn't see it, and (he) would just fall over.”

That's the kind of mayhem Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber is expecting from the 6-foot-6, 325-pound King and junior right guard Matt Rotheram (6-6, 340). They are the tallest and heaviest starters on Pitt's offensive line.

After they moved from tackle to guard — where their wide bodies are better suited — the expectations also are bigger.

“If you ask Cory,” Hueber said, “he is happy he doesn't have to worry about those wide rushes (from the defensive ends).”

When told about the move at the end of last season, King admitted, “It was kind of relief.”

Rotheram played both positions as a redshirt freshman in 2011 before suffering a season-ending ankle fracture at midseason. He played tackle last season because Pitt had a manpower shortage, but he understands guard is where he belongs.

“At tackle, sometimes you are on an island, and it's not as good to be a big-body guy out there,” he said. “I did what I had to do to get on the field and put our team in the best position to win.”

King admits he struggled at tackle.

“I felt like I was on another planet for a while,” he said. “The latter half of the year, I started to feel real comfortable.”

Hueber wants production from his guards, but he also leans on his two veteran linemen (33 combined starts at Pitt) to help teach the other players.

Pitt has its biggest line in the past four seasons, but it's also lacking in experience. Of the remaining six players expected to play most of the time, only senior Ryan Schlieper, a backup guard, has started on offense in college (16 starts).

On the field and in the weight room, Schlieper brings competition, something Pitt's line had little of last season.

“He's a phenom on the bench,” King said, noting Schlieper has bench-pressed as much as 420 pounds. “He just crushes it.”

While trying retain their jobs, King and Rotheram also are mentors for the tackles: redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty on the left and former defensive end T.J. Clemmings and freshman Dorian Johnson on the right.

“They can point to the rush and help the guy lined up next to them immensely,” Hueber said.

“The techniques (coaches) talk about I have done for years,” Rotheram said.

Through nearly two weeks of training camp, the new alignment is working, although practice is easier than games.

Clemmings is nailing down his position to the point where there is talk about redshirting Johnson.

Meanwhile, the line is working in the same system two years in a row for the first time since 2010, providing a confidence boost.

How that will translate in the opener Sept. 2 against No. 11 Florida State is unknown. But Rotheram and King are eager to be tested.

Rotheram said he respects Florida State and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, an honorable mention All-ACC selection last season. But he doesn't stand in awe.

“They are definitely some talented players,” Rotherham said, “but I think I have played some talented players.

“We went to Notre Dame (last season), and people were telling us that was the best defensive line in college football.

“We came into that game saying they are just college football players and we are going to block them like they are college football players.”

The result: Running back Ray Graham rushed for 172 yards.

“We did well,” Rotheram said. “You have to approach everybody like they are no different.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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