Offensive Line Continues Reshuffling

Pitt has used four different players at center with the first-team, two different players at left guard, two different players at right guard and three different players at right guard in seven practices this spring.

The biggest change when Pitt took to the field for practice on Tuesday, was senior Chris Jacobson moving from his mainstay of left guard to center. Jacobson switched with junior-college transfer Zenel Demhasaj, who worked with the first team at center for all three practices last week.

The move was made not so much because of something Demhasaj wasn't doing, but moreso just to try and see how the line would like with Jacobson snapping the ball. Without having looked at film of Tuesday's practice, head coach Todd Graham liked what he saw of the move so far.

"Yeah, I do," Graham said, referring to liking Chris Jacobson as a center. "I'm very high on Zenel, very high on him. I like his attitude. He's coming off a knee injury, and probably not a hundred percent. I've been very impressed; very smart, very tough. He was very impressive at tackle."

If anything, Graham says the idea of trying Jacobson at center had more to do with Jacobson having more of the ideal size for a center. He wouldn't rule out Demhasaj going back to center at some point, but for now, Graham seems pleased with Jacobson too.

"We tried to put (Demhasaj) at center a little bit," Graham said. "I think his injury, his knee, it's a little hard for him to bend, and he's 6-7. Lets look and see Jacobson, it would make more sense to have a body type for that position. Jacobson, he's fired up to do anything we ask him to do. I'm very impressed with Jacobson and (Lucas) Nix and (Jordan) Gibbs. I definitely think those guys are leaders. I thought (Jacobson) had a good day. He had some bad snaps and things like that. I feel great about our offensive line and our depth."

Jacobson, who hasn't played center since he was in fourth grade, was more than enthusiastic about the move.

"I actually am really excited about it," Jacobson said. "The first time I went out there, I was a little bit skeptical about the snap. Coach Leftwich was like, ‘Don't even think about it.' Then, I got my feet under me, and I started getting after it. I really enjoyed it. I'm really excited about it. I'm actually going to watch some (film), and critique myself a little bit. I think it's going to be real good."

Jacobson, known as one of the more physical players on the team, feels the idea of playing center allows him to engage in contact a little bit earlier than he would when playing guard. There's some technical aspects of the center position, such as just getting the snap, that are a bit more challenging. Still, he welcomes that challenge.

"I was telling Lucas after one of our first live periods. You come up to the line, and you didn't know what to say at first, you gotta make a call," Jacobson said. "At guard, you get the call, but you freeze for a second because it's a lot faster, you gotta worry about the snap. You really don't worry about it. You think. That was the hard part. I got the hang of it throughout the rest of the practice."

Offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich is excited just about the possibility of being able to move guys around. He credits the veteran experience of the group as a whole to allow him as a coach to try different players at certain spots. Leftwich doesn't view the move of Jacobson to center as trying the senior at a different spot, as much as he is simply trying to find the best five players along the line.

"That's part of coming into a new spring," Leftwich said. "The number one goal is to find the best five guys. We kind of had a good idea about three of them, and just tried to fit the pieces and move around. We've done that. We've moved some guys here and there; find a center, find a guard here and there. The biggest thing to me is that this is what spring is all about. It's about trying to find the right five. Sometimes that takes moving around a little bit. That was expected."

Will this be his starting five for the opener on September 3? It might be. At the very least, Leftwich feels by all the shifting around he's done, he's getting a better idea of not so much who the starting five will be, but more importantly who the best five will be.

"I think we're getting closer, I really do," Leftwich said, referring to determining a starting five. "We moved a guy, Chris Jacobson, to center. It's day one, too early to make a real determination. We'll look at the film and have another practice. I think we made some strides today of identifying those guys that can play. I think the next step is now getting them comfortable; getting them some practices, two and three and four practices underneath their belt. To their credit, they've been very positive, very acceptable to change and moving around."

Senior Lucas Nix also applauded the move. Nix started spring ball at right guard, a position he played at for the final ten games of the 2010 season. Nix started his career at right tackle, where he became a full-time starter as a sophomore. He was moved back to right tackle in the third practice of spring, and also understands the aspect of moving guys around on the line.

"I hope that Chris guy does pretty well," Nix joked. "There have been a lot of botched snaps, fumbles over the past six or seven practices. You thought about it, and when we found out today, I don't think it's going to be a big deal for him. He's a tough guy. He catches on to stuff pretty quick."


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