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Pitt redshirt freshman Roberts making transition to center

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

Gabe Roberts didn't expect a painless path to a starting job on the Pitt offensive line.

But he didn't anticipate the self-inflicted discomfort he felt recently at practice while learning the center position, one he hasn't played since fifth grade.

Asked to explain a muffed snap between himself and quarterback Tom Savage, Roberts said in a matter-of-fact tone, “I hit myself pretty well right in the (groin area).

“We are trying to speed the snap count. (Savage) was thinking one thing. I was thinking another and then the ball was on the ground. We figured it out afterwards.”

If that represents the toughest moment of the spring for Pitt's new center, who joins left tackle Adam Bisnowaty as one of two redshirt freshmen on the first-team line, Roberts will be fine.

Truth is, it's been a difficult process for Roberts, who is trying to transition from tackle to center seven months after undergoing shoulder surgery.

“We certainly feel like he got better,” coach Paul Chryst said. “He was more of a tackle in high school, but he's taken to (center).”

Chryst also praised Roberts' backup, redshirt sophomore center Artie Rowell (foot), who may not play Friday in the spring game. “It will be close,” Chryst said. “There's a guy who has certainly worked a ton. If he's got a chance, he will be there.”

The theme at center is inexperience. The 18-year-old Roberts is the first Wisconsin native directly attracted to Pitt via a previous relationship with Chryst. This year, Pitt added two more from the Badger State, incoming freshmen Zach Poker and Jester Weah.

“I was going to Wisconsin to walk on,” said Roberts, a 2012 graduate of New London (Wis.) High School, “but coach Bostad (Bob Bostad, who has since left Pitt for the NFL) called me up and said, 'Why don't you come up to Pittsburgh and check it out?'

“I came out here, I liked it and decided to go.”

It also helped that Wisconsin offered only the hope of a scholarship while Pitt made a commitment to Roberts.

“That was (Wisconsin's) big selling point: ‘We give walk-ons scholarships,' ” he said. “But here was my best bet of getting a scholarship and, hopefully, getting some playing time.”

Roberts said he feels “privileged and lucky” that coaches asked him to switch to center, but acknowledged making all the line calls “is a lot of pressure on me.”

Then, there's the daily challenge of trying to block All-Big East defensive tackle Aaron Donald while learning the position's special techniques.

“If you're off by a little,” Chryst said, “it can be exposed a lot.”

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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