Pitt linemen making slow but steady progress
Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber doesn't hide from the truth.
“I don't think anybody who watched us play would think we haven't made progress,” he said of his linemen. “Not enough, but we made progress.”
Two games from the end of what Hueber terms “a long year,” Hueber said he is proud of his players' improvement. Still, he can't help thinking about what he did wrong, how the players could have done better and what the future holds.
“Maybe schematically, I asked more of them than I should have in a couple of situations,” he said, “thinking they would be able to handle it. Maybe they weren't ready for it.”
Nonetheless, there have been some success stories.
Despite a perceived lack of depth and a season-ending injury to right guard Ryan Schlieper, Pitt's offensive line has a chance to escort senior running back Ray Graham to the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Graham needs 165 yards.
“When I get to 1,000 yards, that will be for me and everybody else,” Graham said.
Graham had his best game after Schlieper was lost for the season with a foot injury, rushing for 172 yards against Notre Dame's strong front seven. For the most part, Hueber has been pleased with Schlieper's replacement, redshirt sophomore Arthur Doakes.
“We just need to keep pushing him,” Hueber said.
Hueber's journey began in the spring, learning names, faces and skill levels of players unknown to him before he was hired in January. Then, before summer camp, tackle Juantez Hollins, who started six games in 2011, was suspended for the season, forcing guard Cory King to move to left tackle.
The line developed slowly, recovering and regressing while trying to keep quarterback Tino Sunseri upright. Sunseri has been sacked 28 times — tied for last in the Big East with Connecticut and 101st in the nation. Still, it's better than the 63 times Sunseri was sacked last season.
With Pitt off this week, Hueber used the opportunity Thursday to take a long look at freshman Adam Bisnowaty of Fox Chapel at left tackle, temporarily moving King to left guard, while seniors Chris Jacobson and Ryan Turnley took time off at guard and center.
The result was a glimpse at what Pitt's line might look like next year.
Bisnowaty is the No. 1 backup at left tackle, but coaches won't use him in games, hoping to preserve his redshirt, He will return in 2013 with four years of eligibility and plenty of practice reps.
“We did this (at Wisconsin) with a kid who wound up being a No. 1 draft pick (Chris McInstosh, 2000),” Hueber said.
Bisnowaty has responded well.
“He is a different guy, size-wise, strength-wise than he was when he came, and we thought he was a good player (then),” he said. “You watch him practice right now, and it doesn't make any difference who he goes against. He has no fear. He's going to be good.”
NOTE: Former Pitt wide receiver Darius Patton, who was a freshman in 2011 before leaving school this year, died Thursday in Farrell, according to the Mercer County coroner's office. Patton, 19, played at Penn Hills High School and Poland (Ohio) Seminary.