Pitt offensive line in flux as spring practice begins

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, March 4, 2013, 11:06 p.m.

Jim Hueber is mere months from the age when most people who have worked for 40 years are looking to retire.

But Hueber, 64, is back for his second season as Pitt's offensive line coach with the energy, willingness and a plan to disrupt the status quo.

Retirement plans? Hardly.

“My wife is glad to have me out of the house,” he said.

Job descriptions along Hueber's offensive line will change starting Tuesday when Pitt opens spring practice on the South Side:

• Matt Rotheram and Cory King are moving from tackle to guard, where Ryan Schlieper returns after missing the last five games with a right foot injury.

• Freshman Gabe Roberts shifts to center to complement Artie Rowell in the hunt for Ryan Turnley's replacement.

• Redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty will step in at left tackle with competition from 2011 starter Juantez Hollins, who is back from a year's suspension. Former defensive end T.J. Clemmings will man the right tackle spot.

Hueber reserves the right to revert to last year's configuration if necessary, but he hopes this will work.

“The easy thing would be to say, ‘Well, you had two guys who played tackle and they'll get better a year afterwards,' ” Hueber said. “But are we a better football team? We need to make it where guys are working to win a job.”

Schlieper's return is important, but coaches are eager to see King (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) and Rotheram (6-6, 335) back at their natural position of guard.

“King is the happiest guy in the world that Bisnowaty is going to tackle,” Hueber said. “He'd look out there and see those speed defensive ends, and that wasn't (King's) game. He's a big-body, inside player, and he pulls pretty good.

“There are so many big (defensive) tackles and smaller ends that you want a little more athletic guy at tackle.”

That's where Bisnowaty fits.

“He's athletic for a 315-pound kid,” Hueber said. “He can bend. He can do the things you want a big guy to do.”

Hueber said Bisnowaty flashed those skills last season, but he wasn't able to practice with the regular offense because a personnel shortage forced him to work with the scout team.

“We are excited right now to see what he can do now that he's in a fight to keep the job,” Hueber said.

Five freshmen report this summer to give Pitt 16 linemen. The prize catch is Belle Vernon's Dorian Johnson, who is big, strong and talented but will need to break the freshman mold to make an early impact.

Hueber puts no limits on one, but the general hope is that Pitt's program will grow to the point where it doesn't need to rely on freshmen.

“Most (freshmen) know deep down inside when they show up they are playing against 22-year-old (defensive linemen) who are seniors who are looking to go the next level,” Hueber said.

“It's going to take a special guy to be able to handle that (from) the beginning of camp to the bowl game. That's a long year that they have never been through with that kind of intensity.”

Note: Former West Virginia and Perry High School star Eric Wicks, who spent the past two seasons as a defensive graduate assistant at Pitt, was named Bucknell's defensive backs coach.

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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