Linemen Eager For Season

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt returns five players who started games in 2013, a group looking to improve in a big way this season, while adding depth.

Perhaps no position on Pittsburgh's 2014 roster is more eager for the upcoming season than the offensive line.

The reason is two-fold. One, is looking to cut down on the number of sacks allowed in 2013.

"The big number that sticks out is 43 sacks last year, Rowell said. "Are all 43 sacks the offensive line's fault? No, but that's our number, and we'll own up to it, and we have to cut down on that. We want to know at the end of the day how many sacks we gave up, and how many rushing yards we have."

A rundown of what the unit returns:

Redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty at left tackle, who played in nine total games, starting eight. Bisnowaty battled some back injuries last year, on top of learning the ropes of being a starter as a redshirt freshman.

"For me, it's just keeping core strength," Bisnowaty said. "Last year, I kind of got what I expected out of it. A month or two in the weight room, I felt great. I feel back to where I was."

Artie Rowell was also breaking in his first year as a redshirt sophomore at center. Once he won a position battle out of training camp, he went on to start all 13 games. He anchors this offensive line, comparing his comfort level to now, back to his first career start against Florida State last September.

"It's a little more comforting on me, knowing it's just keeping the job,"

Matt Rotheram is Pitt's most experiences offensive lineman--playing in 33 career games, with 27 career starts. Rotheram has started at both right tackle and right guard in his career. Not to mention, he was breaking in a new starter on either side of him--Rowell to his left, and converted defensive lineman T.J. Clemmings.

Clemmings credits some his his development, as well as a part of the line's cohesion, to Rotheram.

"That's my guy," Clemmings said. "Matt was a play-by-play coach for me. He helped me out a lot. Some of these games, I might have been lost out there, but he got me through it. It will be a lot more fun this year. Matt can be Matt. He doesn't have to worry about me."

Rotheram agrees.

"He's just as smart as I am,"Rotheram said. "He's right up there with me. We're equals. We really play well together I'm excited for the season."

For Rotheram, this year is not only about cutting down on that sack total--a number etched in the mind of each offensive line. It's really about putting everything together, one last time.

"It's been a long ride, but I'm looking forward to it," Rotheram added. "This is it for me. It's good that those guys are young, and have time to be here, but this is it for me. I want to make the most of it."

Also, with all that experience, a strong senior season should bode well for Rotheram's NFL prospects. That, though, is a thought for another day.

"I'm really just focused on this season," Rotheram said. "I'm going to play to the best of my ability, put it on tape, and let it happen."

Clemmings tried the position out in bowl preparations for the BBVA Compass Bowl after the 2012 season, after he started six games at defensive end. A year ago, he was still learning the position a year ago. For him, it's hard to imagine once playing on the defensive line.

"I have a different mindset of how to play this game," Clemmings said. "When I was on defense, I thought I was a lot better than I really was. When it came time to switch, I knew what I needed to do to succeed at Pitt."

From an individual standpoint, Clemmings has one more year to put a stamp on his career. With his development on the offensive line, the goal of reaching the NFL isn't far out of the realm, especially considering his body type (6-6, 305). Still, he keeps it in perspective.

"I take it day by day," Clemmings said. "It is in my mind. I'm still here at Pitt, and I want to finish this season strong with the guys."

But leave the perception of Clemmings to his fellow linemen. As Rotheram noted, it's more of a natural thing to work alongside Clemmings after one full season. For Rowell, the center, Clemmings' play rubs off on the rest of the group.

"T.J. just goes out, and crushes people," Rowell said. "T.J. looked awesome in spring ball. T.J and Dorian (Johnson) are a freak of nature. They're big guys. They're in shape, they're strong.

"T.J. is a workhorse. He keeps everyone working, and he keeps everyone on their toes."

Lets not forget about Dorian Johnson, who enters this year as a sophomore, living up to the bill of being a heavily-recruited offensive lineman coming out of high school. Johnson played in 12 games last year, starting three--two at left tackle, and one at right guard in the bowl game.

Clemmings and Rotheram have already noted at Johnson's development since the bowl game in December.

"Dorian has gotten better over the spring, he's playing a lot faster, he's having more confidence," Clemmings said.

"He's really grown as a player," Rotheram added. "When you're young, it's tough to learn everything. It really comes together after that first year you've played."

Johnson adds what you could consider a fifth starter to the mix. That right there is enough to believe this unit returns a lot, but it's the depth behind that, that makes Rowell think this is a deep group.

"We return four guys, and you have Dorian who played a little bit, Jaryd (Jones-Smith) played in the spring, and Gabe (Roberts) is getting healthy," Rowell said. "Camp is going to be fun this year, with 15 (offensive linemen)."

Clemmings shared a similar enthusiasm.

"It's going to make a big difference," Clemmings said. "We've been working together. Now, it's just about tightening things up."

Even within that, Paul Chryst signed three more linemen in 2014, Mike Grimm, Alex Bookser and Connor Hayes--three players that Bisnowaty feels have already bought in to the program.

"That's what we want out of this program," Bisnowaty said. "Those type of guys--having freshmen come in, is exciting to see the way this program is going."

Aside from the play of the line itself, there are other key components of the offense that will be in development, with the line playing a role in that. One is at quarterback, where redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik will take over the reigns. Rotheram says there's already a comfort level with Voytik.m not just because of what he showed in the bowl game--actual game experience. But also because Voytik has been around for awhile.

"He's fast," Rotheram said. "He's a very athletic quarterback. He's definitely going to make some plays out there. When the pocket breaks down, he can take off and run, so that's going to be exciting. I think we were always real confident in Chad. I'm in full support of him, always have been."

Others like Tyler Boyd and James Conner, Clemmings says are guys the line feeds off of.

"James Conner is one of those guys out there always pushing," Clemmings said. "If he sees me bending down, he says, 'T.J, stand up.' He's taking that leadership role. He's a sophomore. That alone, it shows this is going to be a different team."

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