Pitt's offensive line quite stable

Pitt offensive lineman Chris Jacobson takes part in drills during practice on the South Side Aug. 6, 2012.
Pitt offensive lineman Chris Jacobson takes part in drills during practice on the South Side Aug. 6, 2012.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Pitt's offensive line isn't the most talented group on the team.

Nor does it have a wealth of starting experience.

Everyone but senior center Ryan Turnley returns to a new position after three seniors left, tackle Juantez Hollins was suspended for the year and left guard Chris Jacobson and right tackle Matt Rotheram had last season cut short by injuries.

Yet, when coach Paul Chryst issued his two-man depth chart Monday, there was no doubt who would be listed as starters. The offensive line is the thinnest unit on the Pitt team, but also the most stable.

When the Panthers line up Saturday against Youngstown State in the season opener at Heinz Field, Turnley will be surrounded by Jacobson and right guard Ryan Schlieper, with tackles Cory King on the left and Rotheram on the right. Through more than three weeks of training camp they have taken the vast majority of first-team snaps, with the exception of brief periods to rest minor injuries.

Stability may breed confidence, and Turnley believes the group that allowed an NCAA-high 64 sacks last season will improve this season.

“I think it can be a strength,” said Turnley, a Hopewell graduate who played center for the first time but started all 13 games last season. “The way we came together in camp, we are starting to consistently push out some big runs and give (quarterback) Tino (Sunseri) some time to throw the ball.

“It feels a lot better than it did last year. There is a lot less blowing the play dead because Tino would have been sacked.”

With the shotgun largely scrapped, Turnley is able to play with more aggression.

“For run plays, it's easier,” he said. “You don't have to be sitting back on your heels as much, making sure you get the shotgun snap back there.”

Chryst's pro-style offense seeks balance, but Turnley indicated that the power game will be bigger component than it was a year ago and much easier to master than the speed-based option read attack.

“We are going to line up and run the ball,” he said. “It doesn't take much film study to know that.”

The downside to the familiarity developing on the line is inexperience among backups.

None of the five has started a game in college or taken many repetitions with the starters this summer.

At least, the five starters are healthy entering the season. Turnley, who played through painful plantar fasciitis last season, said his feet are fully recovered.

Turnley will make the protection calls, but Jacobson, who is returning for a sixth season after suffering two knee injuries, will set the tone.

“He's a leader,” Turnley said, “somebody who has been here for a while and knows how to play the game, knows how to play it right. He started in this system, the pro system (two years ago), when none of us did. He knows how the game works in this system.”

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

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