One of the fun parts of college athletics is to watch — over a four or five year span — rookies become the veterans, the teased become the leaders and wide-eyed teenagers turn into college graduates, professionals and more. Part of that process was on display in Pitt’s first training camp practice on Monday.
Brandon Ford is a promising offensive line prospect. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound freshman from Upper St. Clair was rated one of the top offensive lineman in the state as a recruit, and he is a key part of Pitt’s recruiting Class of 2016.
Monday, he was just another rookie. Assigned to hold a blocking pad in a drill opposite starting senior left tackle Adam Bisnowaty, Ford absorbed the contact but was knocked backwards — a bit too far backward for Bisnowaty’s liking.
Bisnowaty responded with a verbal message that was unprintable, but suffice to say, he extended a stern reminder that Ford is no longer in high school.
With the departure of graduated center Artie Rowell, Bisnowaty is unquestionably the vocal leader of the experienced offensive line group that also includes fellow seniors Dorian Johnson and John Guy and four fourth-year juniors. So it’s natural for him to take the younger players under his wing.
“I felt that way in the past as well,” he said. “When I came in here young, I had guys to look up to, and then as soon as I got more experience, I tried to help younger guys along. It’s tough when you come in and you were in high school a few months ago and then you come here and there are 22 or 23-year-olds on the field. It’s a big difference. It’s just bringing them along and trying to teach them the right things and also succeed. I’m a Pitt man and I’ll always want Pitt to be successful when I leave this program. I’d like them to be the best like I want to be the best here.”
Bisnowaty credited players such as Chris Jacobson, Ryan Turnley and Justin Virbitsky for helping him along when he was a younger player, and he sees good things in this group of youngsters that also includes 6-foot-6, 365-pound right tackle Justin Morgan.
“I think the coaches have done a good job of surrounding us veterans with [talented] rookies,” Bisnowaty said. “That’s really important for us. We want great people here. The coaches have done a great job with that. There’s a lot of freshman this year and they’re all great kids. Right now, camp is a great time to get to know them more and bring them into the family.”
While Bisnowaty helps bring along the next generation, the current unit looks to be in pretty good shape, as well. Bisnowaty and Johnson should be dynamic teamed up on the left side for the third consecutive season, there’s also a lot of returning talent elsewhere with Jaryd Jones-Smith healthy again to go along with 2015 starter Brian O’Neill at right tackle. Alex Bookser can play all five positions, but he’s starting out at center, leaving Alex Officer and John Guy to battle things out at right guard. That’s a lot of depth and it’s a reason the offensive line will be a strength for the Panthers.
“We have a lot of talent coming back, a lot of leaders coming back, and I think that’s what’s going to drive this group,” Bisnowaty said.
Freshman Bryce Hargrove is listed as a defensive lineman, but it appeared that was working out with the offensive line. I’ll follow up with that on Tuesday. … Redshirt juniors Carson Baker and Aaron Reese also worked out with the second team. … Sophomore Mike Grimm (hip surgery) was in attendance and walking around, but did not participate in practice.