John Denton's Knights Insider: Pieschel Ready for His Return

Sept. 6, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF's offensive line entered the season as the team's most experienced unit, combining to start 86 games before last Saturday's season-opening rout of Charleston Southern.

Four of the five players from last year's historic season returned, save for one massive exception - 6-foot-7 right tackle Jah Reid, who now is battling for a starting job in Baltimore after being a second-round pick of the Ravens in the NFL Draft.

The unenviable task of replacing Reid falls now on the shoulders of Nick Pieschel, who just so happens to be best friends with Reid. The two played alongside one another last season with Pieschel at guard and Reid at tackle. Now, Pieschel is trying to replace one of the best linemen to ever play at UCF, and he still leans on his good friend from time to time for pointers on playing tackle.

``Jah helped me out a lot last year. I called him about a week ago and he was stressed about everything up there (in Baltimore), but we had about an hour-long conversation,'' Pieschel said. ``Anything I pretty much need I go back to him and (offensive line) Coach (Brent) Key. Jah was such a big influence on me last year and I hope he does well up there (in the NFL).''

The Knights are similarly looking for big things this season from Pieschel, especially this Saturday night when UCF (1-0) hosts Boston College (0-1) in what figures to be one of the most physical games of the season. Kickoff at Bright House Networks Stadium is at 8 p.m. and the game is being televised nationally by CBS Sports Network.

No one is more ready for the game than Pieschel, who was held out of the opening 62-0 victory because of a minor knee injury suffered earlier in the week in practice. Pieschel, he of the 32 career starts, has been cleared to start Saturday night against Boston College and he's expecting a battle in the trenches between a UCF team that wants to run the ball and a physical Boston College team that specializes in stuffing ground games.

``They've always been very big and their front guys are sound,'' Pieschel said. ``No. 40 (Luke Kuechly), I think he led the nation in tackles last year, so we'll have our hands full with him. I think it will be a very physical game.''

That's just fine with Pieschel, who is 6-foot-7 and 308 pounds. He was strong enough to thrive inside at guard last season, the spot where UCF head coach George O'Leary feels is Pieschel's natural position. Often last season when UCF needed tough yards or a big third down conversion, they ran to the right side behind Pieschel (6-7), Reid (6-7) and tight end Adam Nissley (6-6).

Now, with Reid gone, Pieschel was the natural choice to move to tackle. After all, he spent his first three seasons on campus as UCF's left tackle. His football smarts and athleticism allowed him to make an easy transition from guard last season to tackle this season.

``You like to see some range at the tackle position and he has that,'' O'Leary said. ``I still think he's a better guard than a tackle in my opinion because he's better in close quarters, but a lot of times he's lining up with a tight end. He's played that (tackle) position well so far, making the right calls and I've been pleased with him.''

Pieschel said one thing that has made his conversion to tackle easier has been UCF's experience and familiarity along the offensive line. Right guard Theo Goins entered the season having started 11 games, while center Jordan Rae made 13 starts last year in his first season on the offensive line. Left tackle Chris Martin was in the starting lineup for three games last season, while top reserve Cliff McCray has 19 career starts and can fill in at several positions along the offensive line. Factor in Nissley making his 26th career start last Saturday night - many of them lined up next to Pieschel - and it's easy to see why the UCF tackle feels comfortable with his surroundings.

``Coach Key said from the very beginning that we have the most starts and we're the most well-rounded group on the team, so it shouldn't matter if we switch one guard or a tackle to the other side,'' Pieschel said. ``We've all played next to one another enough that we know each other's tendencies. We can make false calls or know how the other guy is going to adjust. It just makes playing together a lot easier.''

And it doesn't hurt that Pieschel is blocking for three tailbacks that could likely start for any other team in Conference USA. In Ronnie Weaver, Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey, the Knights have a three-headed monster at tailback that should ensure that they have fresh legs on the field at all times and will likely keep defensive coordinators up late at night.

Said Pieschel: ``It's so much fun blocking for three guys like that. They're all different, but they all run so hard. It makes our job easier as a lineman when you are blocking for a guy who runs as hard as they do and they work to get those extra yards.''

As for the task of replacing a UCF legend who also doubles as his best friend, Pieschel said he tries not to think about trying to fill the shoes of Reid. In fact, that was part of the advice given by Reid when the two have talked from time to time. He knows the two have different styles and he just plans on using the techniques that have made him an anchor of the UCF line each of the past three seasons.

``There's pressure there, but I'm a different player than Jah,'' he said. ``Jah was an unbelievable player here and he's doing really well right now with the Ravens. So we're just trying to move on without him and pick up this season where he left off.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.