Pitt football notebook: Bowl season helps beef up Pitt's offensive line
Pitt earned more than a 13th game when it received an invitation to play Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 5 in Birmingham, Ala.
Rewarded with 15 extra practice days, coach Paul Chryst is taking the opportunity to look at young players, especially offensive linemen.
And not just returning starters Cory King, Matt Rotheram, Ryan Schlieper and Arthur Doakes. Chryst is hoping to beef up a unit that has been bereft of depth for two years.
“Certainly, there were a couple of recruiting classes that weren't real big with O linemen,” Chryst said.
The classes of 2011 and 2012 had a total of four offensive linemen, and one — junior college transfer Zenel Demhasaj — won't return for his redshirt senior season. The others are freshmen Adam Bisnowaty and Gabe Roberts, who were redshirted this year, and backup center Artie Rowell, who's part of the ‘11 class.
The expected return of redshirt junior tackle Juantez Hollins, who was suspended this year after starting seven games in 2011, may help. Plus, Chryst said he likes the progress redshirt sophomore T.J. Clemmings is making after moving from defensive end to offensive line at the end of this season.
“We're just kind of looking at it,” Chryst said. “Just like he did on defense, he jumps into it. He has some good qualities as a football player.”
Chryst also appears to have made the position a priority in the 2013 class, getting verbal commitments from four offensive linemen more than a month before signing day, including 6-foot-4, 300-pound Alex Officer of Rochester, N.Y., who pledged to Pitt over the weekend.
Chryst said he won't hire a defensive coordinator before the bowl game after Dave Huxtable resigned to accept the same position at North Carolina State. Defensive coaches Chris Haering, Matt House and Inoke Breckterfield will share the duties in practice.
“I have guys I trust,” Chryst said. “We'll be all right.”
He also has not designated a coach to call plays on game day.
“It's a good group effort right now,” he said. “We can build on a lot of the things we've done.”
Of Huxtable, he added: “I appreciate what Hux did and it's also good for us to move on.”
Chryst said he hasn't decided if he will promote from the staff or hire a coordinator from outside the program.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Devin Street said he filed paperwork to gauge his potential standing in the NFL Draft, but he expects to return to Pitt next season.
“I still have a lot of things I want to accomplish with this great coaching staff,” he said.
He said Chryst suggested Street look into the draft.
“We will sit down and talk, but I'm (focused) on staying,” Street said. “It's fun being one of the older guys and guys come to me and ask me questions.”
Street is spending considerable time in practice with next season's quarterbacks Tom Savage, Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson.
“Trey and Chad are a little similar, more mobile,” he said. “Tom Savage has one of the best arms I've ever seen. Once he learns the system, I think he can be great. I think it will be great competition back there (in the spring).”
Chryst said he is undecided on senior wide receiver Cam Saddler's status for the bowl game. Saddler was suspended for the South Florida game Dec. 1 for violating a team rule.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.