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Pitt center Robb Houser

Robb Houser made an immediate impact on the Pitt football team when he arrived in January from Butte Junior College in California.

And it's not just because he became the immediate frontrunner to start at center for Pittsburgh. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Houser proved to be a good weight-room technician and a guy Buddy Morris has said is among the strongest Panthers.

Robb Houser also gets high marks from Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise, who has taught linemen for nearly four decades at the professional and collegiate levels, including the last 18 in the NFL. And most importantly, Panthers starting quarterback Bill Stull has spoken highly of Houser as well.

"He's my guy,'' Stull said. "We developed a good rapport right away in the spring. We worked out during the summer, and it got stronger during camp. He's a very good center, and I have a lot of confidence in him.''

It's a good thing Houser has broad shoulders, because the Pitt offense has a lot riding on him this year. Sure, Stull's health and continued improvement are critical to the Panthers' success this year. And keeping tailback LeSean McCoy running downhill is another key component.

However, it all starts up front for Pitt where he offensive line, which was much-maligned last fall, has been rebuilt and must come together quickly for the Panthers to hit the ground running -- literally and figuratively -- this season. And the lynchpin for the O-line is the center, the only player who must touch the football on every offensive play in a game, Robb Houser.

"He's done a real good job and has accepted the challenge since Day 1 when he was thrown in there,'' Wise said. "That's physically and mentally, and he's gotten a little bit better every day. So, that's nice to see.

"When you throw in the protections with the center and the fact that he's got to identify certain things. You don't know how sophisticated his offense was in junior college. Not that ours is so sophisticated, but there's always different terminology. And it's not that abnormal as compared to a tackle.''

Houser had a good spring, and it didn't take him long to get acclimated to his new teammates. The weather was a different story for this California native.

"Yeah, that was quite a change for me, but I think things are going well,'' Houser said. "From the spring to now, with all of our summer stuff, and over the course of camp I think we've gotten a lot better. Coach Wise has done a great job, and I think everyone on the O-line would agree with that.

"(And) I think we're moving the ball pretty well. We're coming together great. We're learning to work with each other very well, and I think we're going to have a great year. With the backs we have, as long as we keep making holes for them, we'll be able to move the ball on the ground and control the line.''

The last junior-college offensive lineman Pitt recruited, Jeff Otah, turned out pretty well. He started immediately at left tackle, played extremely well and finished as a first-round NFL draft choice. But he didn't join the team until late summer. So, it was a slow, difficult transition for him in the beginning.

That's why Houser believes it was beneficial for him to enroll early at Pitt.

"I'm so glad I came here in the spring,'' Houser said. "I was getting my feet wet. I had all summer to work off the spring, which taught me all the basics, so it was really good to get here in the spring instead of the summer. (And) C.J., sometimes he has to correct me on some things. I'm glad he's on my left.

"And I'm glad John's on my right. I think we've got a great O-line, and I'm looking forward to a big season. It's working great with Bill Stull, too. ... I'm very confident that we'll get the job done. We're really clicking, maybe just one fumbled snap (in camp), but that was on me. I forgot the snap count.''

If Houser and the offensive line continue to jell, few Pitt fans will be able to forget how important they were to the team's success this season.

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