Pitt's rebuilt offensive line clears way for success

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The foundation of any great offense is a solid offensive line.

After Pitt's 58-point performance Saturday, it's easy to point to the gaudy numbers from quarterback Tom Savage or the receiving tandem of Devin Street and Tyler Boyd.

None of that happens, though, without a strong game from the blockers.

"Especially after the last game, we're definitely feeling real comfortable with the offense," left guard Cory King said. "I was pretty impressed. We just kept going out there and doing what we had to get done."

Through three games, the offensive line has given up six sacks (three of which came in the opening loss against Florida State) and paved the way for an average of 184.3 rushing yards per game.

The linemen likely had their best performance Saturday, when they gave up only one fourth-quarter sack to the Blue Devils and the offense racked up 174 rushing yards in Pitt's first Atlantic Coast Conference road game.

The early success has been a bit of a surprise, considering Pitt came into the season with three new starters on the line and the only holdovers -- King and Matt Rotheram -- were changing from tackle to guard.

King admitted that he has been pleasantly surprised how quickly new starters TJ Clemmings (a converted defensive end at right tackle), Adam Bisnowaty (left tackle) and Artie Rowell (center) have adjusted to full-time roles.

"Biz is real young, TJ coming from the other side of the ball and picking it up as quick as he has, I'm pretty impressed with how quick they've picked it up," King said.

"Yeah, there haven't been a lot of those inexperience mistakes. I figured we'd get some of those, but we've really been pretty good at it."

King said the most significant development has been how the communication between the linemen has improved. Even with a new center making the calls, the Panthers haven't suffered from a lot of missed assignments.

"It takes a huge load off mentally, stress-wise," King said. "I'll be beside Biz, and he'll just go, 'Hey, hey' and I know what he's talking about or vice versa."

Offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he wasn't necessarily surprised at how quickly the new linemen have picked up their responsibilities, but only because he had high expectations. Rowell won a position battle with redshirt freshman Gabe Roberts in training camp, and Clemmings held off five-star recruit Dorian Johnson for his starting spot.

"I have the reputation of being hard on them and stuff, but they know this: I'm going to tell them the [darn] truth," Hueber said. "If I think one guy deserves to go ahead of somebody, I'm going to tell them that. I'm not going to hide it, I'm not going to sugarcoat it."

Johnson might be the most interesting wild card. He did not play in the opener against Florida State, giving reason to believe the coaching staff might redshirt him this season.

He played against New Mexico and Duke, though, primarily in a red-zone package where he serves as an extra offensive lineman. Hueber said it was a viable package for the offense, not just a chance to get Johnson in the game, because it adds an extra blocker to pull on run plays.

"It's a small package that we've given him so far," Hueber said.

"I can't tell you whether or not it'll expand. Right now, we're using him as a blocker; if he shows up in an 80 number this week and we throw a ball to him, let's all keep our fingers crossed."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published September 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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