Thursday, February 13, 2014

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Offensive Line

Where the position stands now:

In my opinion this is the most fascinating unit in the Pitt program because it's been bad for so long, yet no unit has the potential for a complete turnaround like this one does in the near future.

For next year, it's safe to ink in 6'6" 340 pound guard Matt Rotheram into the starting lineup. He's a probable all-star.  At one of the tackles, another big returning senior, 6'6" 305 pound T.J. Clemmings, will start. He moved from defensive end prior to last season and started at right tackle. He performed well and with another year he should improve even more.  I also wouldn't be surprised that if he did improve a lot that he could move to the left side.

After that, things get more competitive.  If he returns from chronic back injuries, 6'6" 300 pound redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty could start somewhere on the line. He was up and down (mostly down) as a redshirt freshman starter, but has good potential once he gets more experience. But he may be a step slow at right tackle, so he could be better off switching from the left side to the right, or even inside to guard. His situation will be interesting.

If those three start, stay healthy, and improve, then the line may actually be average or better than average for the first time in years.  Especially if 6'6" 290 pound (estimated for next season) sophomore Dorian Johnson rebounds from a less than stellar true freshman season. In Johnson's defense he should have redshirted last season instead of being forced into action, so hopefully it hasn't done irreparable damage to his confidence.  He has the great feet to eventually move to left tackle, but he will probably end up at guard. If he can start at that position, and excel, next season, then the line will get better in a hurry.  After Johnson there is 6'5" 330 pound redshirt senior Shane Johnson, who has seen limited reserve snaps in his career, and may not be back to the team.

Redshirt freshmen about to join in the mix at guard are 6'5" 300 pound Carson Baker and 6'5" 310 pound Aaron Reese, and at tackle with 6'7" 320 pound Jaryd Jones-Smith. At least one of Baker or Reese will have to provide some reserve snaps and it looks like Jones-Smith may be the top reserve at tackle so he better be ready. He does have a great frame and moves well.

As for center, there were no quality centers in the program prior to the start of last season, but suddenly there will be three next year and four the year after that. However, it still looks to be a possible weak link next season.  Returning starter, Artie Rowell, a 6'2" 305 pound redshirt junior, was below average last season and could easily lose his job if any of the players behind him improve. Gabe Roberts, a 6'5" 305 pound redshirt sophomore, was pencilled as the starter last season but he couldn't handle the snap. Probably not the best weakness to have as a center. If he improves, but still can't handle center, he could also factor into the mix at guard.  Then there's redshirt freshman Alex Officer, who at 6'4" and 300 pounds has brute strength and a lot of promise.

As for the incoming freshmen, 6'6" 300 pound tackle Alex Bookser and 6'5" 280 pound Conner Hayes will likely redshirt. But both have a lot of potential. Bookser is very athletic and could be an ideal left tackle down the line. Hayes is a tough and tenacious mauler.

The wildcard freshman is 6'6" 330 pound Michael Grimm. Normally I wouldn't think twice about redshirting an offensive lineman, but that's mostly because freshman aren't strong enough. That's not the case with Grimm who is already stronger than most linemen in the country. I would not be shocked if he lettered next season.

Future recruiting:

Even though the WPIAL has been a little down for awhile, Paul Chryst can be thankful that the region has been putting out some excellent offensive line talent recently.  Chryst tapped into that well for the third straight year by getting an early commitment from 6'4" 290 pound Alex Paulina of Canon McMillan HS. He won't get a huge amount of offers because centers usually don't, but I wouldn't be surprised if Paulina is an all-star center more than once for the Panthers.

Two big local tackles are also being targeted by the Panthers, and both have offers. The big name is 6'8" 300 pound Sterling Jenkins of Baldwin HS. He has great size and quickness, and he's mostly just potential right now, but he's one of the most coveted lineman in the country. Pitt will battle against Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan for his services. I think eventually he will choose someone other than the Panthers.

The other is somebody that I like a lot, and that's 6'7" 290 pound Tony Pilato of Hempfield HS. Pitt is his only offer thus far, but that should change. A talented basketball player, he has the feet to eventually play left tackle. He's a very good developmental prospect that has a lot to work with.

As for the elite line prospects that the Panthers have already offered, I don't see any of them signing with the Panthers. Those prospects are 6'5" 300 pound Richie Petitbone of Gonzaga College HS (Washington, DC), 6'5 285 pound Ryan Bates of Archbishop Wood Catholic HS (Warminster, PA), 6'7" 330 pound Sam Madden of Barnegat (NJ) HS, 6'7" 290 pound Grant Newsome of Lawrence (NJ) Prep, and 6'5" 280 pound Rob Dowdy of Westerville (OH) South HS. A step below that group is 6'4" 300 pound Kwan Stallworth of Martin Luther King HS (Lithonia, GA). I don't see him venturing north since he has some SEC offers. Another is 6'5" 280 pound Drayton Carlberg of De Le Salle HS (Minneapolis, MN), but the hometown Golden Gophers recently offered and they may be hard to beat.

One local prospect that the Panthers haven't offered yet is 6'4" 270 pound Tyler Hudanick of Seneca Valley HS. He may be a little undersized now for the Panthers, but I really hope he gets bigger because he could be very good. He flat out pancakes people, and moves very well.

If the Panthers simply landed the local center, guard, tackle trio of Paulina, Hudanick, and Pilato, then Pitt fans should be ecstatic. No, it won't cause the national websites to give them high grades, but I really like all three. It's especially nice that now with more depth, they have time to develop.

Other in-state possibilities that haven't been offered yet include 6'5" 275 pound Gabe Spurlock of Mars HS, 6'5" 275 pound Hayden Mahoney of Malvern Prep HS, and 6'5" 280 pound Ryan Bischoff of Plymouth-Whitemarsh HS.

There will be many other linemen to add to this list after the staff holds their camp. Plus, many kids grow into prospects from one year to the next, so it's always a fluid situation.

Bottom line:

If I were forced to bet on what the starting lineup next season would be, I would go with Bisnowaty and Clemmings at tackle, and Rotheram and Dorian Johnson at guard. That's unless there's injuries, of course. Center should be a three player battle between Rowell, Roberts, and Officer. If, as expected, Shane Johnson doesn't come back, the rest of those who should letter will be redshirt freshmen, especially Jones-Smith at tackle, and either Reese or Baker at guard.  And of course there's that wildcard, Grimm.

On paper, unless players like Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty become very good suddenly, it looks like the line may still not be much better than average. But average is better than it has been, and the future looks even better. Players like Dorian Johnson, Bookser, Grimm, Jones-Smith, Bisnowaty, and Paulina all at least have a lot of natural skills.  And the rest of the underclassmen are maulers who are good fits. The future is bright, even if the present is merely less dark.


  1. If I understand what I read correctly, the reason Rowell was the starter last year was that he recognized defenses much better than Roberts, and the calls made at the LOS is critical. In fact, ESPN cited Rowell after the bowl game after incorrectly ciitng Rotheram who did not play) stating that the coaches said that Rowell did a great job in recognizing BG's defensive alignments.

    Maybe Roberts has improved here.

  2. Another good read. I will say if Artie R is down to 205 maybe he can switch to free safety haha.

  3. Observations from last night as I was in attendance:

    Pitt didn't shoot well at all.
    Pitts couldn't penetrate inside on Syracuse.
    Syracuse defended EXTREMELY well.
    Pitt made their last 10 free throw chances, several late possessions were horrible. Dixon wanted to run the clock out resulting in rushed shots in order to get it off before the clock.
    Syracuse has FAR SUPERIOR players than Pitt.
    Christmas, Ennis, Cooney all better than Pitt's starters save for Patterson.
    Zanna isn't a starter, on most top 15 teams he would come off the bench. Last night proved how much we miss an inside presence like Adams.
    It looks like an early exit for this Pitt team if they even make the tournament. They have no signature wins and will likely be an 7-11 seed in the tournament. If they win their first matchup, a significant opponent in the 2nd round looms.
    Dixon isn't an elite coach. He is a very good coach, but not on the same tier as some of these others.

    1. He almost beat the No.1 team in the country who has about 3 NBA players to his zero NBA players. That's a great coach. I know a lot of Pitt fans don't want to believe that because they always want to believe that there's somebody better out there that can make them a national championship, but it's not going to happen. Dixon is by far the best coach Pitt will have, and he's one of the best 20 coaches in the college basketball. Every team that Pitt lost to had more talent this year. Period. And if Durand Johnson is playing Pitt probably wins 2 out of those 5, Pitt's in the top 20, and nobody is complaining. Well, that's not true. People will still complain because instead of taking a bunch of okay players into the top 20 he didn't take them into the top 10.

    2. Dixon is a great coach, but you can't say we'll "he doesn't have the same level of talent to work with as x or y coach" as an excuse for losing when he's the one responsible for recruiting players. If he doesn't have the guys capable of winning at the elite level that's on him. Second, there are other coaches who have done more with less and Pitt could have made a move for them instead of extending him for 10 years. Brad Stevens before leaving Butler and Gregg Marshall at both winthrop and now witchita state would've been improvements.

    3. Amen Chris!! NBA talent wins over good college talent. Dixon's teams always play tough, competitve & have a chance. Future is bright with elite recruits coming in.

    4. Well said Chris. I'm tired of the Dixon bashers.

      BTW Travis B. Pitt did penetrate the zone.

    5. I didn't say that Pitt could go out and get a better coach. Dixon is a good coach, but not a great one. And the last time I checked the coach is who brings the players in. The fact that he has inferior talent is on him. Pitt plays in one of the best conferences in the country, one of the best venues in the conference. They have high academic standards and are the top basketball show in town. There is no excuse not to be held in the same regard as Syracuse, UConn, Louisville, Georgetown, etc. I stated in my original post that Cuse had better talent.

    6. Sorry Chris, but Dixon has been at Pitt for 10 years now.
      Blaming it on his ability to "coach up" players and play above their capability is getting old now.
      How about recruiting better!!
      Problem is, the "better" players are not that interested in Dixon style of play and Dixon style of coaching (micromanaging). So, its a vicious cycle which comes down to Dixon coaching.
      So, either Dixon adapts and changes and perhaps become more ACC like, or Pitt will continue the same path of 20+ wins, NCAA, 1 and done.

    7. It takes many years to get into position to get the small handful of truly elite prospects. It's unbelievably naive to think that Pitt can beat out programs that have been elite for 20, 50, even 75 years.

    8. Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens and Sean Miller disagree with you. Do you ever hear Cuse players complaining about "being told not to shoot?" Do you think Boeheim tells Trevor Cooney not to shoot?

      These were just my observations from the game. Some of you guys need to open your eyes. You keep saying, "wait, their time is coming and more recruits are on the way." Well they should already be here. Dixon knew that it was likely Adams was leaving after one year and to not have a contingency plan looks poorly on it. If getting 20 wins every year against inferior opponents is what makes you happy than so be it.

    9. I'm talking about beating out those programs for the elite players. It takes at least a decade to get into position to beat out the programs that have been powers for many decades. You just don't do it overnight.

    10. Any idea why Pitt stopped running and getting easy buckets? Haven't run a fast break since the halftime of the Dook game. Is it to save energy on our team because all of the sudden we have 6 serviceable players? Good defense by our opponents? This team needs easy baskets. Not hold for 33 seconds and chuck it up. If Pitt doesn't make some of those desperation shots they lose by 15

    11. I think you're starting to see the program's ability to attract better players increase with the addition of Slice. Chris is right, you can't blame Dixon when he has the best talent he has available on the floor and they're losing to the No. 1 team in the country on a last second prayer that went in.

      What hurts Pitt right now is depth, as in serviceable depth. Losing Johnson means you at a minimum have one freshman on the floor and sometimes as many as three. The fact they've still won 20 games and are ranked in the top 25 should not be cause for bitching, if anything this team has overachieved this year.

      If I would fault Dixon for anything it was calling a TO with 4.4 seconds left and saving the Cuse's butts. They had no chance to get the ball down the floor and get a shot off if he doesn't call a TO.

      Mike W.

    12. Want to make sure I understand. You need to be a top team for a decade plus to recruit good players in BB. But PC get's ripped every year and he's only in year 3 of trying to develop a good team, never mind it staying good for a decade plus........

      I'm a fan of Dixon too, but it's fair game to go after his recruiting approach.

    13. Chryst gets maybe two elite players a year, usually in his own backyard. Dixon, with little local talent, still recruits better than him. It hasn't even been close.

  4. Shane Johnson is one of the 5 players not coming back next year.
    Crockett, Ifill, Johnson, Christian, Felder.
    Per Pantherlair.

    1. Yeah, I accidentally edited that part out. That's what happens when you write a detailed article after a tough Pitt basketball loss. You type with blind rage.

  5. Doke, you lost me calling Rotheram an all-star. Never saw a kid of his size repeatedly get man handled with ease. Grimm replaces him, Roberts to center for the same reason.

    1. FWIW, Rotheram got the most votes of any Pitt OL and and made honorable mention ACC. I don't think he got manhandled as much as the others this past year ... the year before when he was at OT, yes, but not this past year when he was switched to his natural position.

    2. He was honorable mention All-ACC last season and will probably be preseason All-ACC next season so technically he's considered an all-star.

  6. 6'6" 340 mauler guards turn into third - fifth round draft picks in nfl if they are healthy. All these kids need to work on their footwork, explosion and nastiness over the break. For Rotherman, his chance is now. If he wants to play in the nfl, he needs to pick up his training and mental toughness.

    Thought Rotherman had a younger brother who was just as big. Preferred walk-on?


  7. If I were to bet on the starters for next year's O-Line, it would go a little like this...

    Left Tackle T J Clemmings (I was sold on Clemmings on Offense the second Hueber and Chryst announced the switch last year. In his first year as a starter, he was Pitt's most consistent Offensive Linemen In this second year as a starter, Clemmings will be in the conversation as one of the BEST in the ACC and maybe the nation and the talk will start as to how HIGH in the NFL Draft TJ will go.)

    Right Tackle- Adam Bisonwaty (After getting all the acclaims coming out of High School, Adam STRUGGLED his first year as a starter. Maybe it was a bad back, let's give him the benefit of a doubt. NOT a Guard, if anywhere, Bisonwaty will find his home at Right Tackle.)

    Guards - The EASY bet is Matt Rotheram as a Starter. Star? Not sure about this. Beyond Rotheram, take your pick, plenty to choose from. Among them, is Alex Officer who as a Brute Force is hard to imagine snapping the football. Also a GOOD POSSIBILITY is Dorian Johnson who, while somewhat nimbler and quick of feet... is NOT a Tackle... not this year or any forseeable year. But there is one other position for which Dorian might be ideally suited.)

    Center - (AH HA! The position for which Mr. Johnson is PERFECTLY suited to play. That said, there is the INCUMBENT Artie Rowell. OK at times. Bad at others expecially when trying to stop the BULL RUSH. If Rowell is ot able to improve by Fall Camp, I look for Johnson to get the call.)

    Special Note - Despite the existing talent in the O-Line, I am not so sure that a certain incoming Freshman named Grimm is necessarily destined for a RedShirt. Grimm is a name that just seems better as a Starter on a Pitt Offensive Line than someone riding the bench. And yes, I know there is no relation except for the name..