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Does Pitt's offensive line have a chance to surprise in 2014?

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

ESPN took a look at Pitt's offensive line for next year. Last year the unit was up and down and that didn't go unnoticed. But as the ESPN.com article mentions, the Panthers' line could actually surprise some folks along the way next season and could even be the sleeper in the conference:

Only five teams in the country allowed more sacks per game last season than Pitt, and those five teams finished with a combined record of 6-54. So, if four of the five starters from that unit return this fall, is that really a good thing for the Panthers? It’s probably not likely that Pitt suddenly blossoms into one of the best pass-protection teams in the country, but the unit also isn’t nearly as bad as the numbers indicated a year ago. Quarterback Tom Savage was a statue in the pocket, but Chad Voytik -- this season's starter at QB -- is far more mobile. The backfield has ample experience, too, and guard Matt Rotheram has started 25 of 26 games in the past two years to provide some veteran leadership on the line.

The good news for Pitt is that they only lose the combo of Cory King/Ryan Schlieper on the offensive line at guard, and they return four starters from last year - Artie Rowell, Adam Bisnowaty, Matt Rotheram, and T.J. Clemmings. A potential fifth starter, Dorian Johnson, even got some starts last season.

That type of returning talent should bode well for the team, and when you factor in highly-regarded recruits also in the mix such as incoming freshmen Alex Bookser and Michael Grimm, the Panthers are building some nice depth.

Still, I don't know how much of a step forward this unit takes in 2014. A good point in the ESPN article is that Voytik's mobility should be a bonus and it could result in fewer sacks. Still, that's not really an indicator that the line will be any better at blocking. In fact, blocking for mobile quarterbacks often puts a greater strain on offensive linemen as they're forced to move around more on the field.

Overall, I don't think that the line will be significantly better until at least 2015 ... and if you think about it, things could be even better in 2016 since guys like Grimm and Bookser, two guys that expect to factor in heavily, will still be underclassmen in 2015. In 2016, there's a chance that Pitt starts a senior Bisnowaty, senior Johnson, and junior (or redshirt sophomore) Grimm and Bookser. Expecting every one of those guys to pan out is probably too much to expect, but Chryst has recruited a gaggle of linemen and that's the one position that should be in good shape going forward.

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