The Pittsburgh defensive line already has received some preseason accolades with a first unit likely to play at the next level as well, but the offensive line is slowly coming together and benefits from lining up every day against a group that should be among the nation's best this season.
"I think we're improving every day here, and we've got a lot of guys getting in there and getting some good reps,'' senior right offensive guard John Malecki said. "So, we're coming together as a team, and the competition out there is better than in any other year since I've been here at Pitt.
"So, that drill against the D-line, it's definitely something that we appreciate. They have a wide variety of pass-rush techniques, so that really helps us whether we're facing bull-rush or speed guys. We get a great look, and it gives us some great competition every day. That really helps us improve, take our game to another level, and I can see our pass-protection get a lot better.''
At first glance, the drill appears to be an advantage for the defensive line. The O-linemen can't even blink or they'll give up a sack. The quarterback, video assistant and former high school signal-caller Shawn Besong, takes the center snap. The D-linemen have to smack a large tackling dummy that is behind Besong. It's just a short drop for "quarterback,'' so the O-line has a tough task.
"I have three favorite things that we do, and that drill is at the top, because that's where our guys can develop their moves,'' Gattuso said. "What we do in that period is work their moves that they do best, and they have to work on moves that they're trying to develop.
"If you didn't do a period like that, they could never develop any new moves. Our older guys have 5-6 moves that they can go to, but a guy like freshman Tyrone Ezell ... we're working on one main move with him right now. And that's power. We add to it as they get older.
"Myles Caragein, he has about three moves right now,'' Gattuso added. "It's hard on the offense, that drill, but it should be. That's third-and-10, so that's good work for them, too. Everyone knows you're passing, so it's going to be tough anyway. I think it's a good drill for both sides.''
During that period at Thursday morning's practice, the Pitt offensive linemen held their own. Sure, Mick Williams was tough to handle, and so was Greg Romeus. But any offensive lineman is likely to struggle against them. Williams beat senior Joe Thomas twice and redshirt senior Jason Pinkston twice.
Williams was just too quick and strong for either offensive lineman. Romeus also tortured Pinkston with a slap to the inside, and with one step he was past him. Romeus also put an unbelievably quick spin move on Greg Gaskins that basically left him standing still, while Williams also ran over center Robb Houser and Jared Martin. Pinkston actually came back with a strong effort to stifle Romeus.
Houser has struggled in this drill against a couple different pass-rushers. He also couldn't handle Gus Mustakas, Myles Caragein and Craig Bokor. Martin was beaten by Bokor, too, and so was Alex Karabin. In the rematch, however, Karabin held his own and was patient despite several Bokor moves.
Chris Jacobson handled Chas Alecxih and Caragein, while Malecki did a good job on Mustakas and Caragein. But Caragein followed that with a bull rush on Martin to jam him into the quarterback. Justin Hargrove beat Jordan Gibbs and Gaskins.
The most successful among the younger players were freshman end Jack Lippert and redshirt frosh offensive guard Ryan Turnley. Lippert got a good angle on Cory King for a sack from the inside and then used his quickness to get around him on another occasion. He also got a hand on the QB despite a strong effort by offensive tackle Dan Matha.
Turnley displayed excellent technique to stop Ezell and Alecxih. Ezell, working exclusively with power moves, had a tough time with Josh Novotny, John Fieger and Ryan Schlieper as well. Fernando Diaz and Alecxih split their matches, while Jordan Gibbs and Brandon Lindsey did the same.
Notes: TE Nate Byham returned after missing a couple days with headaches. ... Pat Bostick took only second-team quarterback reps, while Tino Sunseri and Bill Stull both got snaps with the first team.
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