Pitt football notebook: Panthers center sharpens his skills
When Pitt junior center Artie Rowell watches video of a game or practice, he can see what he did wrong by stopping the tape with a simple flick of the wrist.
It's not that easy on the field, with defensive linemen in his face and running backs coming up behind him.
But after starting all 13 games and making most of the blocking calls last season, Rowell is going through his first spring as the recognized starter at center. And the game is coming into sharper focus.
“The field is starting to look as clear as it is on tape,” he said. “When that happens, you are able to make some calls.”
Pitt coach Paul Chryst said the spring after a player's first significant stretch of playing time is among the most crucial days of his career.
“All the coaching points are real,” Chryst said. “You have a frame of reference. He has to draw on that.”
Rowell said working with coaching assistant Ryan Turnley, his immediate predecessor at the position, has been a big help, too.
Four-fifths of the line has been together for all seven spring practices. Offensive left tackle Adam Bisnowaty has yet to practice as coaches treat his back injury with care.
While quarterback Chad Voytik goes through his first spring as the presumed starter, sharing snaps equally with Trey Anderson, he is working on cleaning up mechanics in his throwing motion.
“My stride length is a little long,” he said.
He said Chryst noticed it, but Voytik said he has been aware of it since high school.
If Voytik's accuracy suffers in practice while making the changes, he isn't worried.
“There are a lot of days before the first game,” he said.
Chryst said perfecting the details can make a difference.
“You have to teach what to do,” he said. “But how-to is important. That's where you gain an edge.”
Almost 100 former Pitt players visited practice Friday, and Chryst had each of them introduce themselves to the players at the end of the day.
“I want our guys to feel (the tradition),” he said. “I want our players to know they have a responsibility.”
Said sophomore defensive end Shakir Soto: “It was great seeing all the old guys here. You realize what 20 years does to you.”
Chryst conducted the most physical practice of the spring, with the greatest amount of live drills and officials calling penalties.
“It was good to be able to tackle,” he said.
A few highlights: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Zach Challingsworth finding open spaces in the secondary at least twice; running back James Conner shedding three would-be tacklers as he surged into the corner of the end zone; and cornerback Trenton Coles stepping in front of a Voytik pass for an interception.
Pitt All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald makes it easy for line coach Inoke Breckterfield to use him as an example. Donald attends many practices and joins the meetings and offers advice when he's not preparing for the NFL Draft.
“It's not like he left,” Breckterfield said.
Quarterback Tom Savage also attends many practices before he will visit several NFL teams next month.
Chryst canceled practice Monday and will replace it with the 15th and final session of the spring April 15. The next practice will be Tuesday.