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Pitt O-line eager for full contact as pads go on Saturday

| Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, 11:51 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Ryan Schlieper blocks on the first day of practice Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, on the South Side.

The first four days of Pitt football practice revealed little of significance about the offensive linemen.

Yes, they are tall and their shoulders are as wide as most doorways. And they practice like it matters to them, evidenced by redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty's bold, after-the-whistle tussle Thursday with senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Offensive line coach Jim Hueber is a hard man to impress in the best of times, but he'll pay closer attention Saturday. That's when the linemen get a chance to stand out and start coming together as a unit. That's when the team puts on full pads for the first time this summer.

“Instead of being in underwear, we'll find out what happens,” Hueber said.

Bisnowaty is as eager as his coach.

“Let's see what we all got,” he said.

Hueber appears excited about this group, and not just because Cory King and Matt Rotheram are playing guard — where they belong — instead of tackle.

“There are more bodies,” he said.

For the first time in three seasons, Pitt has competition on the line from the beginning of the season. Center Artie Rowell, guard Ryan Schlieper and tackles Dorian Johnson and Juantez Hollins will push until they win a starting job or merely make the proceedings uncomfortable for starters Bisnowaty, King, Rotheram, center Gabe Roberts and right tackle T.J. Clemmings.

Hollins, a senior from Aliquippa who was suspended last season for violating team rules, and Rowell, a sophomore from Harrisburg, have caught Hueber's eye.

“You know, I have been upset with Juantez a couple different times, but he has really thrown himself into it right now,” he said. “The guy who has really stepped up and allowed us (some flexibility) is Artie Rowell. He has really done a good job.”

Then, there is Johnson, a freshman from Belle Vernon who arrived at Pitt with more fanfare than any lineman in several years.

“I think he can handle it,” coach Paul Chryst said. “It won't get too big for him, but we'll see.”

Johnson remains behind Clemmings, a junior playing offense for the first time, but Hueber recognizes his potential.

“You have to remember, he is learning brand-new terminology, but he's a quick study. If you watch him run, if you watch him play, if you watch him strike, he can do all those things.”

Johnson said he can handle the position from a physical standpoint.

“It's just mentally draining,” he said. “I'm kind of excited to go against the older guys and see how I stack up against them.”

In his short time at Pitt (one season and one week of camp), Hueber has become notoriously lovable for how he treats his players, screaming with legitimate fury one minute and placing a fatherly hand on a shoulder the next.

“He said he has high expectations,” Johnson said. “That's why he's so hard on me.”Said Hueber: “They are still trying to figure out if I'm half crazy. I'm trying to tell them, I actually am crazy.”

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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