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Johnson primed for second season at Pitt

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt offensive lineman Dorian Johnson (53) blocks during a Panthers practice in the South Side.
By Donnie Tasser
Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Last season, Belle Vernon Area football product Dorian Johnson put his versatility on display Saturday afternoons at Heinz Field. The 6-5, 300- pound University of Pittsburgh sophomore appeared in 12 of the Panthers' 13 games, starting two games at left tackle and once at right guard, becoming the first Pitt true freshman to start a game on the offensive line in seven seasons.

“Last year it was a lot harder to learn everything,” Johnson said. “As a freshman you show up in the summer and kind of have everything thrown at you and you have to learn the playbook on your own or seek out help from the older players to learn the stuff before you get thrown in there at camp.

Now in his second year in the program, Johnson has grown more accustomed to the offense and has found a home at left guard, where he is expected to start for the Panthers this fall.

“This season I am a lot more comfortable,” Johnson said. “I have been watching film all summer, working with some of the veteran guys who have been around the offense. Things are slowing down more and I'm not thinking as much when I play. Last year I played guard, tackle and tight-end a little bit and I played on both sides of the line. So I was learning everything but it was kind of scattered.”

Although Johnson was the number two ranked tackle in the high school class of 2012 and a five star recruit, he has welcomed the switch to the interior line.

“I like playing guard better,” Johnson said. “I like the tighter space where I can use my strength a bit more. I feel settled into left guard this year and I'm getting more and more comfortable the longer I spend there.”

Johnson has all of the ability and the coaching to look forward to a longer career in the game. Pitt's offensive line coach, Jim Hueber, has a strong reputation for churning out NFL-quality lineman in a career that has lasted nearly 40 years with Pitt, the University of Wisconsin and the Minnesota Vikings, among others. While at Wisconsin, Hueber coached three first team All-Americans who went on to become first round draft picks.

“Coach Hueber has coached a lot of guys who are in the NFL now,” Johnson said. “He has coached All-Americans and first round picks. I just try and take in everything that he says because he absolutely knows what he's talking about and it will make me better.”

With the natural talent he possesses and one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, nobody would blame Johnson for thinking about the NFL already. But he insists that he is only focused on the year in front of him.

“I think we are going to have a great season this year,” Johnson said. “That's our goal. We want to get to a great bowl game, to compete for an ACC Championship. For me personally, I don't have too many goals other than to just improve. I want to get better every day, show everybody that I deserve to be on the field and to help the team win games.”

Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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