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Pitt is still searching for depth on offensive line

| Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Pitt linemen surround wide receiver Cameron Saddler in the huddle during practice Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Pitt assistant Jim Hueber is an equal-opportunity offensive line coach. He yells at everyone.

After two weeks of drills, his words have hit the mark and are helping shape Pitt's line into a serviceable group. Holes are starting to open in the defense, thanks to five starters getting accustomed to each other.

But here's a key to a successful season: Keep the starting line healthy.

“I'm not going to lie to anybody,” Hueber said. “We're just like a lot of teams around the country. When we decide on five guys, that's the five guys we want to play. You don't want to play anybody else.

“I know you are hoping against hope that will happen over 12 games. But that's where we want to be.”

From the start of camp, the starters have been led by seniors Ryan Turnley at center and Chris Jacobson at left guard, with Ryan Schlieper at right guard, Cory King at left tackle and Matt Rotheram at right tackle.

“We are going to be as good as our front five, as Coach Hueber always tells us,” Jacobson said. “Leadership has to come from the front five.”

The backups, none of whom have played in a major-college game, are showing “flashes,” Hueber said.

“That's it. No elaboration,” he said. “Flashes.”

The group includes freshmen Adam Bisnowaty and Gabe Roberts at left tackle and guard, center Artie Rowell, right guard Shane Johnson and right tackle Zenel Demhasaj.

“The freshman kids are doing a nice job,” Hueber said. “Artie Rowell has done a nice job. He has us in the right protections, stuff like that.”

Still, Hueber is demanding more consistency, or else.

“When we get ready to go to game time,” he said, “if they are not involved in the two-deep (depth chart), it will be their fault, not mine. They are getting as much coaching and as much is being demanded out of them as the guys who are with the first group.

“If they can't step up and do it, we will move someone else who can, or else I'll keep my fingers crossed that we got five (starters), or we'll have to move a fullback to guard. We'll go single wing.”

Don't expect anything so drastic, though.

“I think we are getting closer to having five guys we can trust out there,” he said. “By no means was it perfect (in Saturday's scrimmage), but over the last three days, we really felt like we got a lot done that will help us moving forward.”

The example set by Jacobson, who is recovering from knee surgery, should be a source of inspiration, Hueber said.

“The fact that he is in the huddle, guys are looking to him. It's not easy to take a play off now when a guy is out there after (surgery).

“Not easy to beg out.”

A sign in the Pitt weight room reminds linemen to be “tough, accountable and durable.”

“If you are not out there, you are not durable,” Hueber said. “You have to find a way to get on the field. If you are going to find a way not to, we got the wrong guy.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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