PITTSBURGH — This year, for the second straight season, Pitt offensive line coach Dave Borbely will have a difficult job during training camp.
In 2018, Pitt hired to rebuild a unit that was going through a period of transition.
Borbely inherited a unit that would return just two starters — and only one at the position that he had played the previous year. After spring practices, Borbely was pretty sure which five players were going to make up his starting unit.
But he wasn’t sure how good they would. His two starting guards — Connor Dintino and Mike Herndon — had played more defensive line than offensive line in their Pitt careers. Alex Bookser was better-regarded as a guard than a tackle and Stefano Millin was coming over from Kent State.
It was a group that took some time to gel, and still struggled with pass protection throughout the season, but by the midpoint of the year, Borbely had molded those five into a dominant run-blocking group that allowed both Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison to eclipse 1,000 yards for the season.
This year, he’s at it again, after four of his starters graduated, leaving just center Jimmy Morrissey to rebuild around.
But this time, it’s a different problem. Left guard Bryce Hargrove, who started four games at the end of the 2018 season after Morrissey went down with an injury and Dintino shifted to center, seems to be a lock.
Tackle/guard Nolan Ulizio, a graduate transfer from Michigan, seems likely to play somewhere. After that? Borbely has the good problem of having perhaps a half-dozen qualified linemen for the final two spots.
And while it’s a good problem to have, it is a problem, as Chase Brown, Jerry Drake, Brandon Ford, Gabe Houy, Carson Van Lynn, Carter Warren and more are contending for those spots, and with camp already underway, it doesn’t seem like Borbely is all that close to naming a starting five.
“I only had five last year, so it was pretty easy,” Borbely said during the team’s media day on Friday. “Those other guys weren’t even close to ready. … I think we have many more options. I think I’l have more depth. I wasn’t comfortable playing anybody but the starting five last year. We’ll have more guys that have a chance to play this year.”
On the whole, Borbely likes what he sees out of his group of still-developing linemen. While they’re mostly young — Brown is a former junior college transfer that’s a senior, the rest are sophomores and juniors — they have attributes that make them projectable.
“They’re athletic,” Borbely said. “I think they get what I’m trying to sell them on: accountability, toughness, pride, passion. Those things are really important. More important than any play.”
Borbely said it’ll likely take a couple of scrimmages for him to feel like he has a good sense of where his line is, meaning that those camp battles could continue right up until the start of the season, and even change in character as players are moved around throughout training camp.
With a new offense being installed that has a heavier focus on the passing game, it’s going to be important for that unit to gel if Pitt wants to hit the ground running — or throwing — on offense.