Pitt's shaky, inexperienced offensive line continues to be a work in progress

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 4:46 p.m.

Jim Hueber can take the heat.

He has directed the efforts of offensive linemen from Dodge City, Kan., to Madison, Wis., to Pittsburgh in a coaching career that has spanned five decades. He served on a staff with the Steelers' Mike Tomlin during his five years with the Minnesota Vikings.

So when Hueber met reporters this week after Pitt allowed 15 combined sacks to Virginia and Virginia Tech, he knew what was on their minds.

“All right,” he said before the first question. “Where are we going? As if I didn't know.”

Hueber usually enjoys lively football banter, but he is serious about the problems facing his line.“I get it. I've been doing this a long time,” he said. “If it's the sacks, it's the line. I don't have any problem with that.”

Hueber is working to make short-term corrections, but he knows it's a long-term fix to get the line playing at a level that allows Pitt to build a consistent passing game.

“I don't know we are that way yet,” he said, “to throw the ball that many times (60 attempts in the two games) from a drop-back position.”

Pitt began the season with its five offensive line starters in new positions, including left tackle Adam Bisnowaty, who redshirted last year as a freshman; sophomore center Artie Rowell, whose prior experience was limited to two brief backup appearances; and right tackle T.J. Clemmings, who played defense in his first three seasons.

“(Reporters) started the questions in the beginning of the year,” Hueber said. “The left tackle never played, the right tackle never played, the center never played. The two guards (Cory King and Matt Rotheram) were tackles.

“Some of it caught up to us. Some of it is technique. Some of it is talking to each other (on the field). With the exception of two plays in the (Virginia Tech) game, I wasn't concerned physically. I just thought we made some mistakes that we didn't need to make that gave them an easy play.”

The good news may be that four starters return next year — presumably better equipped to handle a pass rush — four freshmen are in the midst of a redshirt season and another, Dorian Johnson, is backing up Clemmings. Hueber said Johnson is averaging 11 snaps per game, including special teams.

Johnson arrived from Belle Vernon as a five-star recruit and the No. 2 high school tackle in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Laremy Tunsil, who was ranked ahead of Johnson, has started three games and played 75 percent of the snaps for Ole Miss, but Hueber said it's difficult for any freshman to win a starting job.

“Do you really think Dorian was in a game with that kind of crowd noise before?” he said of the Virginia Tech game. “And he did a nice job. He certainly wasn't afraid. He certainly didn't have big eyes.

“I think we are moving in the direction where he'll play more.”

Note: A hearing for Pitt defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell, who has been charged with simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct in connection with a brawl in Homestead on July 30, was postponed until Oct. 30. Ezell has maintained his innocence.

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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