They got in Monday, when Traverse City (MI) lineman Connor Hayes decided to end his recruitment and become a Panther.
What's most intriguing about Hayes' commitment, is that it follows how Paul Chryst's first full class started off. In 2013, Scott Orndoff committed, followed by Aaron Reese. Orndoff, a tight end. Reese an offensive lineman.
With Hayes' commitment, it's clear that he's not scared off by the heavy number of 2013 signees on the line--five to be exact.
Paul Chryst has talked about changing the culture of the program. Part of that culture, from a makeup standpoint, is loading up on offensive linemen as well as tight ends who can be converted into hybrid players.
Offensive line coach Jim Hueber had a skeleton crew to work with last year. To start the year, redshirt junior Juantez Hollins was suspended for the entire 2012 season. After the Temple game, the team lost right guard Ryan Schlieper for the final four games due to a right foot injury.
The only linemen that Hueber used were left tackle Cory King, left guard Chris Jacobson, center Ryan Turnley, right guard Arthur Doakes and right tackle Matt Rotheram. The only reserves he used past those guys, were center Artie Rowell and guard Shane Johnson--albeit in a very limited role for both.
He could have used Adam Bisnowaty. Certainly, the group was thin enough where Bisnowaty could have helped. Luckily, Pitt was able to hold on to Bisnowaty's redshirt. Then, in bowl preparations, T.J. Clemmings was moved from defensive end to right tackle. Clemmings liked the move so much, he decided to stay there, and he became the offensive winner of the Ed Conway Award--given annually to the most improved player on each side of the ball. Whether it was planned or not, but with these two moves, it looks like Pitt has its tackle situation figured out for 2013.
Another body Hueber was forced to be without was Gabe Roberts. Roberts suffered a shoulder injury four weeks in to the season, and was forced to miss the remainder of the season, even though he knew full well he was heading for a redshirt. When spring ball opened, Roberts was moved to center, even working with the first team. Don't rule out Rowell, the sophomore, though. Chryst--not one for praising individual performance--praised Rowell twice during the spring for his work ethic. King and Rotheram, starters at tackle in 2012, both move inside to play guard on their respective side.
It is way too premature to call this an all-conference line, but think about how it was built--if indeed this is going to be the starting group. You know you're going to have a new center, regardless. Moving your two most experienced linemen in King and Rotheram inside to guard may be the most beneficial move for the offense as a whole. Experience is part of it, but they'll both have a natural a feel for the respective tackle on their same side. That could come in handy for filling responsibilities, for for help breaking in new starters Bisnowaty or Clemmings. Not to mention a first-time starter at center, whoever it is, who will have a comfort level with some seniority around him at the guard spots.
As we said earlier, Hueber didn't have much of a luxury in terms of extra bodies. Bisnowaty, King, Roberts, Rowell, Rotheram, Clemmings, Schlieper. Of those seven bodies, four have started games for Pitt. That includes Clemmings, who started on the defensive line. If you include Arthur Doakes (whose status, following a suspension from the BBVA Compass Bowl trip, may be up in the air) starting the final four regular games, and Hollins starting in 2011 at guard and tackle, there's six players with some starting experience.
Hueber has to feel some luxury with nine bodies. However, lets not forget the five offensive linemen signed in this 2013 recruiting class--Aaron Reese, Jaryd Jones-Smith, Dorian Johnson, Carson Baker, Alex Officer. Or, to be more specific, Jones-Smith and Johnson at tackle, Reese and Officer at guard with Baker at center. That gives Hueber 14 bodies to work with--twice the number he had for the BBVA Compass Bowl.
And things got better Monday, with the addition of Hayes. You can also point to the sign that it's a second year in a row that Pitt has gotten a commitment from the state of Michigan. Last year, it was Luke Maclean. Credit defensive coordinator Mtt House for building some ties in the state. This year, it's Hayes, who will wrap up his high school career as a four-year starter. The team will lose King, Hollins and Schlieper after this season, due to graduation. Already, they've got one number replaced with Hayes.
Again, we still have to see this team play, but the numbers and the increased depth on the offensive line are already evident. Hayes didn't come to Pitt for early playing time or a chance to start. It's all part of a culture that is being brought here by stockpiling offensive linemen. Too early to tell how this will all turn out, but the increased numbers on the offensive line are promising.