We got to meet with offensive line coach Jim Hueber after Pitt's practice today, but before we get to a couple of notes and quotes there, one quick defensive note from today's practice down on the South Side...
- We only got to watch the first half-hour of practice today, but in the brief team session we saw, it looked like Todd Thomas was working at weakside linebacker. Up until now, he had been playing on the strong side behind Eric Williams. In the lineup we saw, it was Thomas, Dan Mason and Eric Williams. It'll be interesting to ask defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable about that later this week, because that may be a way they see to get their three best linebackers on the field, regardless of position. Responsibility-wise, the weakside spot requires a little more in pass coverage, which I think Thomas should be able to handle with his athleticism. We'll see what Huxtable has to say about this possibility later in the week.
- Now, on to Hueber. When asked to give a midseason grade to his unit, he said it was a little tough to do that.
"I don’t know if we’ve had time to make a midseason assessment. I think we’re happy that they’re playing hard, I think there’s things we’d like to do better, I think, at every position," he said. "As far as effort, what they’re giving us a chance to win, I feel like they’re in there, they’re throwing it at people, so that’s what we need to keep doing."
- He did say he liked the way Pitt was able to run block in the last two games, but admitted that they struggled in pass protection. In particular, they've been vulnerable to speed rushes on the outside. That resulted in five sacks against the Cardinals and another five against the Orange. On the season, Pitt ranks 103rd nationally with 3.0 sacks allwoed per game.
"Our biggest problems come in the protection. We’re getting out-athleted," Hueber said. "We try to help them on the edges, but we can’t do it on every snap. You just can’t do it on every snap, you’ll never get anybody out on a pass route. That’s when we’re getting caught."
He went into more specifics with what the Panthers can do to make up for those issues on the outside.
"What we’re trying to do is always get help, turn the protection to the tackle, try and help him with a back chipping out, try and put a tight end on that side," he said. "But again, the more you restrict the box, the more you keep people in, the more people they bring and it breaks down anyways. We’ve got to pick and choose our spots to try to help them, and that’s what we’re trying to get done."
- Cory King, Pitt's starting left tackle, moved outside from guard this season. It's a tough transition to make, and Chris Jacobson said as much when we talked to him a few weeks ago. Hueber said that once Juantez Hollins was suspended for the season in August, they made the decision to move King outside. He could move back inside down the road, but that decision is a long way away.
"We’ll look at it again at the end of the year and see," Hueber said. "We’ve got some guys redshirting, we’re hopefully going to do some things in recruiting. We might have to play some young guys again until we get it squared away, and we might be able to move him back in there. But right now, he is working his tail off. I can’t ask any more than that. We just have to improve him on what he’s doing and not worry about where it goes from here."
- These five linemen are pretty much "the guys" for Pitt, with not a ton of depth at the position. Hueber said he does what he can to give these five guys breathers now and then, such as keeping them in for film review during special teams work late in the week, and things like that.
"You don’t see us running sprints with those guys," Hueber said.
He also said there's a benefit for having five guys play all the minutes on the line. They have a sort of rapport and familiarity that is important along the offensive line.
"The more you switch guys, the more there’s a question," Hueber said. They go up there, they grunt at each other and they know what’s going on. I don’t half the time. I don’t know what that grunt means, it’s certainly not the call that we’re using."