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Coveted Pitt freshman lineman Johnson unlikely to redshirt

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 11:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt offensive lineman Dorian Johnson (53) blocks during a Panthers practice in the South Side.

Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber makes no apologies for how he coaches or the stress placed on his players.

“The way we play football isn't (easy),” he said. “We want guys who like football and aren't afraid to bang it around.”

Dorian Johnson — not yet 19 years old — won't argue.

The freshman from Belle Vernon, one of the most coveted high school linemen in the nation last season, said he practiced for two weeks this month before he started feeling comfortable with the playbook, footwork and techniques demanded by Hueber.

“It's tough,” Johnson said. “Learning the plays is one thing, but actually getting the footwork down, that's the main part.”

Then, he said he needed to adjust to the quickness of defensive end Ejuan Price and the strength of defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

“He's a lot stronger than I thought he was,” Johnson said of Donald.

Johnson isn't starting at right tackle — T.J. Clemmings has nailed down the job with hard work and the type of physicality Pitt's staff likes — but he said Hueber told him this week that he probably won't redshirt.

“Coach Hueber told me, for right now, the plan is not to redshirt,” Johnson said. “Unless it gets halfway through the season and I'm not getting enough reps. He doesn't want me to waste a year.”

Johnson said the news was “exciting.”

“I wasn't sure where I stood until (Wednesday),” he said.

Hueber said Johnson is making good progress.

“He is on the fast track to be alive in there,” he said.

Hueber wants to build depth as much as a cohesive group of starters. To that end, he rotated four tackles and two centers on the first team every three snaps this week through the final day of training camp Thursday.

That meant backup tackles Johnson and Juantez Hollins had the same opportunities as starters Adam Bisnowaty and Clemmings. He did likewise at center, where Gabe Roberts and Artie Rowell are competing.

“I want to make sure when we finally make a decision that everybody is comfortable with whoever we put in there,” Hueber said.

That will give Hueber options if the line is hit by injuries or spotty play during the season. It also gets young players accustomed to the rigors of college football. There are only three seniors on the line, and guard Cory King is the lone starter among them.

Hueber and coach Paul Chryst try to push players to the limits of their potential. The team has been in full pads every day since Aug. 10.

“We tried to put a lot of stress on them mentally,” he said. “We put a lot of stress on them physically.

“I don't know if we are old-fashioned or what it is. But the formula for success is there if we teach it right and the kids respond the right way.”

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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