Pitt's offensive line changes for better

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Glancing at statistics, it doesn’t take long to realize the 2013 season was not a pretty one for Pitt’s offensive line.

The Panthers ranked 118th out of 123 Division I-A teams with 3.31 sacks allowed per game. They fared slightly better running the ball, but finished 102nd with 125.7 yards per game.

Only one starter, left guard Cory King, graduated from that unit.

The Panthers are hoping that, starting this spring, even though most of the faces are the same, the results will change.

“We look at last year’s tape [and] say, ‘Here’s where we were,’ and ‘Here’s where we want to go,’ ” right guard Matt Rotheram said.

“You just want to build off of every single year. I think [last year] definitely does give us a chip on our shoulder. We want to be better.”

Returning starters Rotheram, center Artie Rowell and right tackle T.J. Clemmings have been joined this spring by sophomore Dorian Johnson, who played in 11 games last year with three starts. He has taken King’s spot at left guard.

But left tackle Adam Bisnowaty, who started eight games last year, has been held out of the first five practices with a back injury

Pitt coach Paul Chryst said Tuesday that Bisnowaty hasn’t had any setbacks, but wasn’t sure when he would be able to return.

That, combined with reserve lineman Gabe Roberts’ shoulder injury, has left the Panthers short-handed up front, forcing some players to double up on the first and second team.

Redshirt freshmen Jaryd Jones-Smith and Carson Baker have been training at tackle and guard, although offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he would like to settle into more defined roles sooner rather than later.

With Bisnowaty out, Jones-Smith has been working with the first team at left tackle.

Listed at 6-foot-7, 295 pounds, he has the size for an elite tackle, but there are some growing pains.

“He’s got physical tools,” Hueber said of Jones-Smith.

“He’s a baby, he’s still learning.

“He’s still got some basketball traits as far as instead of pushing guys, he’s still peeling guys off and boxing them out. He wants to work, so it’s great. We’re making money with him every day.”

Hueber said his main goal this spring was to have the left side of his line — Jones-Smith and Johnson — catch up to the returning starters at center and on the right side.

Rotheram, the most experienced offensive lineman with 27 starts, said the continuity is paying dividends.

Last year, Pitt had no starters return to the same position along the line.

“Me and T.J., we’re on the same page,” Rotheram said. “And Artie’s back.

“It helps that the center’s back this year. [He’s a] veteran in the middle there directing us around.”

Rotheram said he, too, hopes to provide a veteran presence in the meeting room. Right now, that just means watching film with Johnson and the other young linemen and offering some pointers.

“We’ve got two younger guys, but they’re going to catch up and be right on pace with the rest of us,” Rotheram said.

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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