Jordan Gibbs broke in as a starter last year at right tackle, after Dave Wannstedt and Tony Wise reshaped the line after the first three games. In Gibbs' first start, Ray Graham rushed for 277 yards. Gibbs never looked back.
There are a lot of Big East preseason all-conference teams by various publications. Neither you or Lucas Nix was selected as a preseason all-conference pick. Your head coach believes you both are the top tackles in the conference. Do you treat that as a snub?
That is my goal. I'm trying to be one of the first-team, Big East, all-Big East. I feel like Luke can do that too. It really motivates me. I do want to be one of the top tackles. With Luke, we'd be the top tackles. I'm really not worried about people overlooking us. I just do what I need to do.
Which of the younger linemen have impressed you most this camp?
I feel like Cory King has improved; coming off the ball, getting stronger. Juantez Hollins, he's been showing a lot of good things in camp. We'll see what happens.
Is Hollins ‘one of the guys'—meaning, is he a starter the way you three seniors are starters?
Right now, I feel like he can be with us, just like him and (Ryan) Turnley. Turnley has played a little bit last year. I feel like we have a pretty good group of linemen.
What do you like about Hollins?
He does have a mean streak. He can get real mad sometimes when he comes off the ball, and hurt people.
Chris Jacobson enters his second year as a full-time starter. You can make a case for Jacobson being a three-year starter, as he was in a training camp battle with then senior Joe Thomas all the way to the end of the 2009 training camp.
As a veteran leader of this group, we asked Jacobson to asses the line a little bit.
Which of these younger players has impressed you the most?
You have (Ryan) Turnley at center, who has been doing a great job. He's been working hard, knowing that I'm right there behind him. He has to do good. Turnley is a smart player, and he gets better every day. I'm proud of him. His snaps are getting good. As a young kid, Cory King had a very good camp. He had a good offseason summer program. He's in shape, he's ready to go and as a young kid, and he's going to fill the role at guard.
Do you see any more shuffling going on with the offense line before you kick off against Buffalo?
There was a little swapping around with (Greg) Gaskins going to tackle, but I think it was just to see. I really don't know how that's going. You have me, Jordan Gibbs at left tackle, Lucas Nix at right tackle, Ryan Turnley at center and probably Cory King at (right) guard. We'll see what happens. This is a big scrimmage this weekend for those guys, too. I'm pleased with how Turnley did this camp. I'm proud of him, the same thing with Cory King.
Those younger offensive linemen might not be in the same class as the seniors. Are they ‘starter-ready' in your eyes?
They have to be. We have to trust them, and they have to be able to look up to us. They know what we're doing, and we've already played in games. They're doing a great job, so they have to be on point. They have to be studying film, they have to be coachable, listening, like coach (Leftwich) says all the time. If they know how to practice and go hard all the time, they'll be fine.
Who, overall of anyone on the offensive line, has improved the most this camp?
Juantez Hollins is getting better every day. You can gradually see, through camp each day,that he gets little stepping stones. He's doing well. He has ability. He has to work hard every day. Then you have kids like Rotheram. Him and King were swapping for a position there. I think King has a little more of an advanatage there, knowing things better and being more coachable to it. Rotheram is working hard, there's just some things that King does.
Lucas Nix is Pitt's most experienced lineman with 32 career games and 25 starts. Nix has started at both right guard and right tackle, and started working out at tackle again this past week.
This is the last go-around for Nix. The senior has a lot on his shoulders this year—from leading the team and his group of linemen into a new era, but also leaving a lasting impression on the linemen that will have to step up and replace this group someday.
Who, out of these younger offensive linemen, has impressed you the most?
Obviously Cory King is having a great camp. When they moved me to guard (on Wednesday), it wasn't because of his lack of performance. When they originally told me, they wanted to see if something happened to someone, what the line would look like. I think it was that, and they wanted to provoke a little more competition amongst the rest of the kids because a lot of them can get complacent. They see three starters, and there's two guys that are in there. Some of them didn't feel like they were going to get a shot. It might light a fire under some of those guys.
Who has improved the most?
Turnley, he's been one of the most consistent guys in camp; bringing the ball back and just going in there and being a solid player. In the film room, you don't hear anything about him doing anything wrong. He's on the right path to getting stuff done.
Juantez Hollins is one of them. He has started to show a lot more determination. He realizes he has a chance to play. Once you give that guy a little feeling that he has a shot, next thing you know, good things come out of him. He's looking good, King has had a great camp, along with Turnley. I've been looking at him like he's a solid starter. He's the most consistent guy at getting the ball back.
How do you feel the offensive line has done in adjusting to the fast-pace tempo?
We had the same lineup in there until (Wednesday), it was. We've been making a lot of progress. It's a little work in progress, though. How I look at this offense; it's different. What we used to do last year, we don't do this year. Sometimes I get frustrated with a couple things, then I look back, and well, we're doing it a different way (this year). They're moving us around. They're going to get the best five, whether it's from having a position change from one of us older guys and getting a younger guy in there who's been playing good. A lot of people are coming on strong now.
For where we're at now, from where we were at in the spring, it's night and day. We've come a long way with this. Sometimes, we get frustrated because things aren't working out the way they used to. Like I said, it's a new offense. Things might not work the exact same, but we're all feeling comfortable now.
Matt Rotheram started off the spring at right guard, before going down with a hamstring injury that forced him to miss a considerable amount of time. Cory King moved in to replace him, and remained with the first team at right guard through spring, and all the way through training camp until this past Wednesday.
While those two have taken some first team reps, we haven't seen Juantez Hollins take any first team reps yet, but he has clearly caught the attention of his peers and the coaching staff. Saturday's scrimmage is one last test to see if Hollins can be inserted into the mix. Hollins has not played in any games yet, but along with King and Rotheram, is closest out of all the reserve offensive linemen to getting on the field.
What is your frame of mind like right now, with the possibility of earning a spot in the starting lineup?
I feel like I need to step my game up and compete more. I feel like I'm competing more, even better than I did in the spring. I'm just trying to fight for a position.
What is the thing that has worked for you most, to put you in this position?
I'm playing fast now because I'm studying more; a lot more film, and just paying attention. It's second-nature now. Studying helps a lot, instead of just sitting back and letting it come to you. Our offense now is more like memorization than like Wanny's was—situation. Now, it's more memorization.
Todd Graham said you had your knees drained of some extra fluid. How much has that helped you in developing in training camp?
My right knee, it had been bothering me, but I had been fighting through. I ice it every night. I keep it right and up so I can compete every day. It loosened it up very much. I can bend it now. I can move it better, once I got it drained.
I was just fighting through it, trying to keep up with everybody, even though I was hurting at the time. You have to keep up. You can't fall behind.
If you were to earn a starting spot, what position should we expect to see you at?
My best shot is competing for the left tackle position. Hopefully when this camp is over, I can start.