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What Will Pitt Do With the Youth on the Offensive Line?



Pitt offensive lineman BJ Williams.

It’s clear the Pitt coaching staff was unsure of its offensive line even before the struggles against Cincinnati over the weekend.

The unit was okay against Wofford in the season opener, but a Dontay Corleone-led defensive front bullied the veteran offensive line all night. It wasn’t a game that Jake Kradel, Blake Zubovic or BJ Williams will want to look back on too much.

Williams was inserted into the starting lineup just before kickoff, sliding in at right guard, with Zubovic moving to left guard and Jason Collier Jr. moving to the bench.

Frank Cignetti Jr. touched on the offensive line a bit after practice Wednesday, pointing to pass protection and not wanting to rush Williams’ development by playing him before he was ready (And there’s an argument to be made there). Pitt was poor in pass pro, with Williams giving up five pressures himself.

“You look at BJ Williams, who took his first game reps, and he’s going to get better,” Narduzzi said. “He’s going to learn a lot from, really, game 2 to game 3, for him, game 1 to game 2 of just being in there. He was nervous the week before coming in in mop-up duty against Wofford. He goes, ‘Coach, I was nervous, but after the first play I was good,’ so I can’t imagine what he was out there starting. But sometimes you’ve got to learn that way.”

It probably wasn’t the best time to throw Williams into the starting lineup, but it did provide him a very early lesson in his Pitt career. He should grow from this. But where was Ryan Baer?

Baer, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound second-year offensive tackle, by all accounts, shined through the spring and summer. He played all across the line, inside and outside, and Dave Borbely said that Pitt would play its fifth-best linemen this season — regardless of position. It’s hard to believe that Baer isn’t one of those five best linemen.

His name did come up when the coaching staff discussed who would play against Cincinnati.

“Ryan Baer is a great player,” Narduzzi said. “He’s kind of like that third tackle. You’ve got to be careful of repping a guy at different positions, and again, he’s a jack of all, master of none, and that’s our concern with a young guy like that. We want him to be that next tackle going in and get him prepared to left and right, whatever we want to do there, but playing him at three different spots, are we doing him a disservice?”

Narduzzi did say that Baer could go in and play guard, but it seems to me like he wants Baer to be on the outside going forward, which is where his natural skillset shines.

He’s played 38 snaps this season, 20 at left tackle and 18 at right tackle, but all of those snaps came against Wofford. The starting unit against Cincinnati played the entire game. It remains to be seen how the offensive line will be configured against West Virginia this weekend, but I think it’s pretty clear Baer’s future is on the outside.

I think the veteran core of the offensive line is in place, and that likely won’t change unless some serious struggles continue. I don’t know how Pitt will continue to use Williams this season, especially if the transition to starter is more difficult, and Baer and Jason Collier Jr. seem like the likely next men up.

It will be interesting to see how Pitt decides to roll out its offensive line Saturday against West Virginia.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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8 months ago

Jerk-O-Vich played like a Red Shirt Freshman Last week. Soo Slow And Cinder Block Feet. I Love PITT,but ……I Think he’s in 4 a Rude Awakening come Saturday Night. Can’t believe Vegas had US Favored on Monday After a Pathetic Home Performance.
*I Watched WV vs. Penn 🐍……They are A Good Team…..Look out Jerk-O-Vich! This Could Be Your Last game In a Football Uniform. H2P

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