After a warm reception following last week's debut post, Bulls, Bears & Panthers is back for week two, and boy, what a week it was. Obviously the ubiquitous story across the college football world was the release of the Freeh Report and the ever-worsening situation engulfing Penn State.
As a Pitt blog you could make a pretty easy argument for why I should write about this, but I'm not going to. Labeling the PSU nightmare as this week's bear is like saying 'sell Enron' in 2001. It's obviously bad, we get it. The harsh criticism of Joe Paterno and the Penn State administration is absolutely justified, but you can only beat a dead horse so much. Let's focus on items directly related to our Pitt Panthers and the season ahead. This week's rising star and sinking dud are after the jump.
Turnley, a fifth year senior from Hopewell, was named to the Rimington Trophy list, the award given to the nation's top center. Last year, he stepped up and took over at center, despite never playing there in his career before, and went on to start all 13 games. What made it all the more impressive was the fact that the guy was constantly fighting injuries, literally throughout the entire season.
Torn plantar fascia in both feet left him on crutches half the week, in a walking boot for a few more days, then gingerly participating in walk throughs with the hope he could suit up on Saturdays.
There were days he thought there was no way he could get himself onto the field. Yet he endured with the help of pain medication and an unbending will to push through.
Unbelievable. I can't even image the pain and soreness college players go through, especially on the line where they're constantly getting pummeled by another 300 pound dude. Turnley's will to keep playing through serious injury is admirable enough. To make it even better, he's poised for a big senior year.
Now that another fall practice is about to roll around, Turnley feels better than he has in a long time. He allowed his feet to rest after the bowl game, and they are completely healed. He also got to participate during spring practice and begin practicing in the new offense coach Paul Chryst brought with him from Wisconsin.
The new philosophy will be run-heavy, something that should benefit what was a shaky offensive line last year. What also helps is having Jacobson and Turnley back, two seniors with starting experience. For his part, Turnley named the offensive recipient of the Ed Conway Award, given each year to the most improved players of spring drills.
He should be an inspiration for every lineman on the roster. His toughness is emblematic of everything good that Pitt football represents, making Turnley a man on the rise.
Bear (downward trending): Pitt's Offensive Line
Yes, yes, just as I finished calling Pitt's center a star on the rise, I turn around and label the offensive line as this week's sagging stock. At this point in the summer, it's near impossible to predict how well the o-line will jell as a group. But two sites -- Big East Coast Bias and Athlon -- don't seem to think too highly of Pitt's men up front. Our friends at BECB ranked the Panthers line 6 out of 8 in the Big East, but cite some potential positives, including Chryst's excellent offensive lines at Wisconsin.
Athlon was a bit more negative. They slotted the Pitt line as the second worst in the Big East, only in front of Temple. Again, though, they offer some reasons to stay positive this year.
The offensive line struggled to fit in Todd Graham’s up-tempo spread attack, but this unit is better positioned to succeed under new coach Paul Chryst and a pro-style offense. Another reason for hope up front is the return of guard Chris Jacobson. He missed most of last season with a knee injury and should stabilize the right side of the line.
The return of Jacobson can't be understated. Neither can the pro-style offense. Or young players like Tom Ricketts and Adam Bisnowaty who could contribute or even start this year. The outlook for Pitt's offensive line is probably a bit conservative. If the correct pieces fall into place, this group could go from bear to bull.