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Johnson's move to guard assisted by Pitt coaches, teammates

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt offensive lineman Dorian Johnson goes through drills during practice Friday, March 28, 2014, on the South Side.

A year ago, Dorian Johnson hadn't graduated from high school.

Yes, he had a football scholarship to Pitt and an apparent bright future. But who knew what experiences awaited him or how he would react to big, nasty, veteran pass rushers?

Who knew he would start his career at left tackle and then find himself this spring learning to playing left guard — a side of the line and a position that was largely foreign to him?

Actually, no one knows anything for sure this time of year, but Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber has a good idea.

“Coach Hueber thinks I can be a pretty good guard,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that moving back to tackle in 2015 might interest him, but he concedes, “With my strength, I'll work better inside.”

But learning is a process, and sometimes the progress can be slow, especially dealing with increased traffic in the interior of the line.

“It's a lot different,” Johnson said. “It's tougher for me personally. It's closer (to the defense). When you play tackle, there is more space between you and the defenders.”

But Johnson, a former five-star recruit out of Belle Vernon, has an important ally in his quest to become the type of guard who will help Pitt build a strong running game — new strength coach Ross Kolodziej.

“I got a lot weaker during the season,” Johnson said. “A couple of shoulder injuries, stuff on my elbow. But the new strength coach is helping me get my strength back up.”

The process involves players getting more repetitions at one time rather than trying to break poundage records. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound Johnson is among the top three on the team in the bench press (405 pounds) and the top five in squat (500).

Yet, the offensive line is as much about a player's brain as his muscles. For that, Johnson turns to junior center Artie Rowell.

“I know last year when I played guard (in the bowl game against Bowling Green), he gave me the calls and I was new to it,” Johnson said. “I didn't know what the calls meant. This year, he is able to give me the call and I'm able to slide down and give him help (because) I know where my help is coming from.”

Johnson's mental toughness also was tested in the Georgia Tech game when he was matched against senior defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, who had two sacks in Pitt's 21-10 loss.

A positive attitude and the ability to learn from his mistakes will be key ingredients as coach Paul Chryst tries to put together a cohesive offensive line. When left tackle Adam Bisnowaty returns from his back injury, Chryst is not expecting to make any more changes to the line.

“There is some of that (cohesion),” he said. “You've seen a start, but we are a long way from where it needs to be.”

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