Houser, a junior transfer from Butte Community College in California, has been playing as Pitt’s first-team center for much of the spring. A two-time All-NorCal Conference selection, Houser said he’s starting to get used to playing at a big-time school with big-time expectations.
“I think the biggest transition I’ve had to get used to is just the speed,” said Houser, who enrolled at Pittsburgh in January. “The game is a whole lot faster. You’ve got to think faster, you’ve got to know your stuff and, while doing all of that, you’ve still got to come off the line 100 miles per hour.”
Houser is trying to learn all of this while facing one of the strongest defensive units in the country. Pitt’s defensive line has been punishing the offense all spring, forcing Houser to learn and adapt at a faster pace.
Offensive line coach Tony Wise, who’s also in his first year with Pitt, said Houser is on his way to becoming a solid center in the league.
“I would say he’s doing very good,” Wise said. “It’s just a learning process for anybody [transferring to a different program]. He’s adjusting to it. But he comes from a high-level junior college, so the physical part of it has been good.”
Wise added that Houser, who was ranked among the top junior college prospects in the country, is learning because of the depth of the defensive line he’s been facing.
“It’s helping him tremendously [facing the defensive line],” Wise said. “They can run so well that you have to be able to move and stay on your feet and give effort. Having that challenge every day is good. You’d hate to come out here without a challenge. And not only do they have good guys on defense, but they’re two deep. That’s a major point to us improving. That way you won’t get surprised on Saturdays when you get out there [on the field].”
Tuesday, Houser had a solid practice. He’s been improving on the ball exchange from center to quarterback – something in which both he and John Bachman struggled to do on a consistent basis early on this spring. Many of those miscues could be attributed to inexperience, which Houser is getting past quickly.
“I think a big thing is new terminology,” Wise said of the change of scenery for Houser. “That always taxes [the players] a little bit.”
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said before practice Tuesday that he’s been happy with the way Houser has played, but the line still has a lot of work to do before its up to par.
“The offensive line is probably the one spot still where were trying to get guys in the right spot,” Wannstedt said. “[But] Robb Houser is doing some nice things at center.”
But whether he thinks he’s doing nice things or not, Houser said when coaches like Wannstedt and Wise tell him something, he listens.
“Those guys know what they’re doing,” Houser said. “Coach Wise is an excellent coach, and I’ve had some good coaches in the past. He’s helping me learn a lot with my technique.”
One thing Houser said he wants to focus on is becoming more explosive while still retaining his balance and footwork. At the center position, the player must be able to snap the ball perfectly every time, then put his head up and take on linemen and linebackers trying to work their way into the backfield. The center also has to make reads and help the quarterback make calls, bringing his responsibilites up even more.
Something that may take some pressure off of Houser is the return to health of the rest of the line. Jason Pinkston, who started three games last year at right tackle before inuring his left shoulder, is starting to get work in and is hoping to be back to full-strength as soon as possible. Chris Jacobson is also starting to get some more work in, and the line in general is getting stronger every day.
And even if it’s tough going up against such a strong defensive unit, Houser said he has no problem doing it.
“I’d rather go against one of the top defenses in the nation every day in practice,” he said. “That way once I’m in the game, I’ve seen the best. I don’t think there’s anything we can do to get any more prepared.”