Share This Page

With 4 starters back, Pitt's offensive front looking for a rebound

| Thursday, July 17, 2014, 7:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt center Artie Rowell (57) practices Friday, March 28, 2014, in the South Side.

One number trumps all for the Pitt football team's center, junior Artie Rowell, and it's not how many starters the Panthers have returning up front.

“The big number that sticks out is the 43 sacks we (allowed) last year,” Rowell said Wednesday at the team's South Side practice facility. “Now are all 43 sacks the offensive line's fault? No. But we don't have numbers. We're not running backs, quarterbacks and receivers. That's our number. We'll own up to it. But we have to cut that number down this year.”

Injuries and inconsistency plagued Pitt's offensive line a season ago, but with four starters back — not to mention a much more mobile quarterback in first-year starter Chad Voytik — Rowell and others hope the unit will become one of the Panthers' strengths.

“We looked over our mistakes and the things we did last year,” right tackle T.J. Clemmings said. “We've been working twice a week and sometimes three times a week to improve on those things that we did wrong last year so those mistakes won't happen again.”

The 43 sacks Rowell mentioned ranked last in the 14-team ACC — and was seven more than No. 13 N.C. State. Pitt averaged 3.6 yards per carry on the ground and 125.7 rushing yards, both 12th. In rushing touchdowns, Pitt moved up to eighth.

It's Pitt's goal to improve those numbers.

“We want to know at the end of the day how many sacks we gave up and how many rushing yards we had,” Rowell said. “One's negative, one's positive. But you can make that negative number into a positive number if you keep it low.”

This year's group will be bolstered by the return of left tackle Adam Bisnowaty, a Fox Chapel graduate who missed the final four games of the season and spring drills because of a back injury.

Bisnowaty said his back has been “feeling great.” He has been enjoying Friday workouts with new strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej and his staff at Heinz Field, where players run the stadium steps and work through a series of stations.

“You know when Friday comes around, it's time to work,” Bisnowaty said. “We go over there, and the truth comes out — how much you've actually worked. It's fun to see guys compete with each other.”

Bisnowaty, who's 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, insisted he could feel the stands “moving a little bit” when the linemen ran down the steps together. It might not be that far-fetched, either, considering Bisnowaty's the lightest of the four returning starters.

Right guard Matt Rotheram, who was an honorable-mention all-ACC pick last season, takes the cake at 6-6, 335.

Even the sophomores competing at right guard, Belle Vernon graduate Dorian Johnson (6-5, 300) and Gabe Roberts (6-5, 305) have plenty of size. Jaryd Jones-Smith, a freshman who could challenge for regular playing time, stands 6-7, 335.

“It's been a tough summer program,” Rotheram said. “I think the whole team is stronger, faster and in pretty good condition.”

Bisnowaty, Rowell, Rotheram and Clemmings played the first eight games together last season before Bisnowaty was injured. Johnson shifted to left tackle for a game before Juantez Hollins took over. Johnson didn't make another start until the Little Caesers Bowl, when Pitt racked up 255 rushing yards and allowed just two sacks.

Success like that is what Pitt hopes to achieve in 2014.

“We definitely don't want to do that again,” Rotheram said of the 43 sacks allowed. “We're definitely focused this year on being as productive as we can and keeping our sack totals down. Keeping the quarterback clean all season is a big goal for us.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.