He’s about 40 years old. It’s a phrase that can be used, endearingly, of course, for a couple of the veterans on Pitt’s offensive line. In this case, it was Dave Borbely talking about Marcus Minor.
While Minor may be a sixth-year senior, he spent his first four years at Maryland. He arrived at Pitt as a graduate transfer before the start of last season, was inserted into the lineup at left guard and didn’t look back.
Minor started 13 games last season, and he’s started every offensive snap through six games this season. He doesn’t claim to be perfect and doesn’t demand the attention of his linemates, but he does not know when he feels like he should speak up, he does.
So, as the team decided that stalwart Carter Warren would miss the remainder of the season right as Pitt entered the second half of the season against Louisville this week, he decided it was time.
Minor caught offensive line coach Dave Borbely right as practice ended earlier this week.
‘Coach. When you’re done with us, can I say a couple of words to the guys?’
‘Sure,’ Borbely said, asking a few things about that individual practice before asking, ‘Do you need me there?’
‘No,’ Minor said. So, Borbely nodded and began the walk back inside as Minor rounded up the linemen.
Borbely didn’t really want to be around as Minor delivered his speech anyway. It wasn’t about him. It was about his linemen, player to player. And that’s exactly how he wants it to be — how he’s pushed his unit.
“I was just saying that we’ve got six games left,” Minor said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “We need to do everything in our might to get to be where we want to be. We always knew that we want to go to a championship, so we gotta watch extra film, we gotta do the little things, we gotta make sure our details are perfect.
“We know every play isn’t going to be perfect, but we’re chasing excellence, so to do so we’re wrapping up everything around here.”
The loss of Warren, the starting left tackle with 39 starts under his belt, was a big blow. He’s a big, experienced tackle. He’s a team captain. But as much as Minor and Pitt’s offensive line has rallied around Warren, the message wasn’t about him. It was about the opportunity ahead.
It was about hitting the film room just as hard and as often as the practice field or the weight room. It was about accountability among the entire unit, and perhaps most importantly, it was about the trust that needs to permeate the entire room.
Borbely knew he didn’t need to serve as a fly on the wall during Minor’s message because he trusts Minor. And that trust is returned. There’s an opportunity coming up, and that’s where the collective focus needs to lie.
However, injuries have been a constant this season. Warren it out. Owen Drexel has missed a few games this season. As has Gabe Houy as he’s worked back from an injury over the offseason. That’s three-fifths of last season’s starting offensive line.
Drexel will be back, which allows Jake Kradel to slide back to his right guard spot — complementing Minor’s spot left guard. And it leaves the tackle spots open.
Houy has been working his way back into the lineup after missing the first month of the season, taking 15 snaps against Rhode Island, 52 against Georgia Tech and 25 against Virginia Tech. Borbely cut Houy’s snap count basically in half for the Virginia Tech game as a precaution, but when he reaches full health, he’s slotting back in at right tackle.
Matt Goncalves has started at right tackle in Houy’s absence, but with Houy back at full health, both Borbely and Pat Narduzzi envision a swing tackle role for Goncalves. And that leaves Branson Taylor.
Taylor, a redshirt sophomore with two starts under his belt, is the future of Pitt’s offensive line. But that future is colliding now with the present. And Minor, who played alongside Carter for the last season and a half, likes what he’s seen so far.
“One, (Taylor’s) huge,” Minor said. “Two, he’s athletic. He fits the mold of Carter as well. He’s doing the exact same thing Carter was doing since he was coming up and Carter’s taken him under the wing. … He’s a great player, I’m excited for the chance to grow with him.”
With starts in place of Warren against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, alongside Minor on the left side of the line, it was Taylor’s first real taste of college football. He features untaught size at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds (which, seems small when looking at him), but he’s still growing into the position.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot,” Taylor said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “Experience comes with experience, so you just gotta be on that field and gain that experience, and that comes with playing.
“I gotta be better. I’m not perfect, but I gotta get better and that just comes with experience.”
Borbely feels like Taylor is right on track with where he originally expected him to be upon recruiting him out of Elyria, Ohio. He thought he was getting a talented offensive lineman, and the composure that’s been on display as a player on the sideline and a starter on the field has remained the same.
Taylor’s ability to tell Borbely exactly what’s going on the field has been impressive. He’s cool and composed despite his inexperience. And as he said, experience only breeds further experience.
“I’m gonna try to work just like Carter did, me and him worked a lot through this offseason, so he’s been my mentor ever since I got here my freshman year,” Taylor said. “He took me under his wing, so I hope to get the same feedback.”
Minor has seen glimpses of Warren in Taylor already, in the way Taylor approaches extra film sessions, runs down his opponents on the field and focuses on the little details to ensure a better chance of success. It’s a lot of veteran traits. Traits that have been passed down through the room.
That camaraderie starts on the field, but it’s built gradually every week. Pitt’s offensive line will meet every Tuesday and Wednesday night, and while Borbely will lead the meetings if needed, he wants to be able to take a hands-off approach.
“The Tuesday before the Virginia Tech game, I said, ‘Listen, I want you to watch this, this, this and this. If you have any questions, come see me.’ So, they came in here, and I wanted to be player-led because I think player-led teams, player-led units are the strongest units,” Borbely said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
The player-led movement started with former Pitt lineman Jimmy Morrissey, and it continued as he pulled in players like Drexel and Warren. It’s grown to include players like Minor and Kradel and Houy, and that growth is stressed to the younger players in the room like Taylor and Ryan Baer.
It’s about accountability in not just the individual but in the unit as a whole. Minor originally learned it from his high school coach at DeMatha Catholic, and it’s grown at Pitt. It’s been consistent. Consistency doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes, but it does mean you don’t hang your hand too long and always bounce back. It’s recognizing that where there’s failure, there’s also success.
“We just have to be able to trust each other, that’s the main thing,” Minor said. “We just communicate, we know the game’s not perfect, there’s gonna be mistakes along the line — starters or not — but just being able to hold each other accountable is really thing main thing.”
The task has gotten tougher without Warren, but it hasn’t changed the destination. There are six games left in the season, the halfway point of the season is now in the rearview mirror, and the goal remains the same as it was on day one.
“We know we have to lean on each other because we know being an offensive lineman, things get messy,” Minor said. “It’s five of us versus the whole world.”