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College

Healthy Simonitis hopes to straighten out line

| Friday, Oct. 8, 2004

The much-maligned Pitt offensive line should get a boost Saturday at Temple with the healthy return of right guard John Simonitis.

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound sophomore, who started 11 games last season, has been hampered by a high left ankle sprain and missed the Panthers' (2-2, 0-1 Big East) first three contests. He made his first appearance in a 29-17 loss at Connecticut eight days ago, but did not start.

He'll take over for his replacement, senior Matt Maiers, against the Owls (1-4, 0-0) at Lincoln Financial Field. He brings much-needed experience -- only senior left tackle Rob Petitti has started more games -- and a keen understanding of the position.

"It's hard watching from the sidelines," said Simonitis, who was named to The Sporting News Big East All-Freshman team in 2003. "I wanted to be out there."

Simonitis has been witness to an offensive line that gets whistled for an inordinate number of pre-snap penalties and consistently breaks down in pass coverage. Moreover, the Panthers have netted 100-plus rushing yards just once this season, which is why they're ranked 102nd nationally in that category at 94.75 yards per game.

The coaching staff believes Simonitis could solidify the right side. He'll line up next to rotating right tackles Dale Williams and Mike McGlynn, a duo with little experience. Those players are responsible for protecting left-handed quarterback Tyler Palko's blind side.

"If we screw up, we let the game go," Simonitis said.

Simonitis is just glad to be back on the field. He feared the worst when defensive tackle Vince Crochunis got pushed over and landed on the ankle a week before the opener against Ohio.

"I thought my ankle was broken," Simonitis said. "I thought my season was over."

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