This is no great secret. As important as it will be for Chad Voytik to develop quickly at QB. As much as there are big questions about who will be the second and third WRs to take some of the coverage away from Tyler Boyd. As curious as I am to see how James Conner looks. It all starts on the O-line.
Chad Voytik isn’t going to have much success (or avoid injury) if the O-line isn’t giving him a chance. Conner or any of the other running backs can only do so much if the O-lines isn’t at least producing some sort of opening for them to hit.
Health is the concern for the offensive line — as it is throughout the team — but there is a reason to have optimism.
The size is back up front.
“We felt like we needed to get bigger, so you had to recruit bigger,” he said.
The reconstruction of the Pitt football program has taken many shapes, including attitudes and athleticism. There are those who have watched practice every day since Chryst arrived and believe the pad-popping gets louder every year.
One of the most important alterations is the basic look of the team.
When training camp opens next Sunday, Pitt’s offensive linemen will stand, on average, taller than 6-foot-5 and weigh 311.4 pounds. That’s not unlike how it was in 2011 when former coach Todd Graham’s line stood at 6-5 and 313 pounds. But it’s a half-inch taller and more than 16 pounds heavier than in Dave Wannstedt’s final season in 2010.
The four players this season who are 330 pounds or more are either starting (right guard Matt Rotheram) or showing promise as redshirt freshmen (Jaryd Jones-Smith, Carson Baker and Alex Officer). In fact, Jones-Smith (6-7, 335) played almost every first-team snap this spring at left tackle because Adam Bisnowaty was dealing with a bad back.
There were no players who weighed more than 330 pounds in 2010. In 2011, there were three, including Rotheram, who was 15 pounds heavier at 350. The other two were low-impact players Zenel Demhasaj and Arthur Doakes.
Asked whether recruiting big players is part of his coaching philosophy, Chryst admitted, “A little bit.”
It was very obvious from the moment Chryst arrived at Pitt that he was going to go with bigger players. He made it clear to many of the offensive line recruits when he took over after the 2011 season that size matters. Some decommitted. Some stayed. Only Center Artie Rowell managed to overcome the size bias (and he has bulked up quite a bit). Mainly because Pitt had no other options at center. Chryst was going to follow the blueprint set out at Wisconsin.
And don’t tell me, Coach Paul Chryst hasn’t learned a little something about playing to the local base.
But Chryst said Wisconsin didn’t invent the concept of mammoth linemen.
“People talk about (Pitt’s) offensive line, ‘Are you trying to build it like you had at Wisconsin?’ ” he said. “Yeah, but we tried to build Wisconsin like the one that was at Pitt in the ’80s (with All-Americans Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic and Mark Stepnoski who went to the NFL at 277, 280 and 269 pounds, respectively).”
“We are trying to build that line (at Pitt).”
There’s just enough potential truth to the statement, given Barry Alvarez’s ties to the area for it to be true. But still. Nicely played.
But then size doesn’t matter so much if you are hurt or not very good.
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.
As wonderful as James Conner’s performance was in the pizza bowl, those numbers also made the overall rushing numbers not look as bad as they really were for most of the year.
Pitt has to be able to run the ball this year. Not simply because James Conner can be a beast. Isaac Bennett is consistent and Chris James has potential. The offense cannot dump that much on Chad Voytik right away.
We already know that teams will look to blitz early and often against Pitt. You want to try and rattle a new QB. The offensive line was such a weakness last year, it has to be attacked. I have to believe that Chryst and OC Rudolph are expecting and preparing the offense to face a lot of blitzes.