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Pitt offensive line has depth to weather departures, Jones-Smith injury

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With the departures of star tackle T.J. Clemmings and guard Matt Rotheram, Pitt's offensive line was already headed for changes in 2015. Those changes just got a little more significant with the loss of tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith.

Jones-Smith, as JD wrote earlier, will miss the season with a knee injury. He was projected by most to fill the tackle spot opened by Clemmings leaving.

The good news? Pitt has several options at its disposal.

In one likely scenario, the team could move promising redshirt freshman Alex Bookser back to tackle (from guard) where he previously projected as a top recruit. That would seem to be fine with him as he said earlier this year that it didn't matter where he played. That opens up a spot at guard where he was a projected starter.

The biggest beneficiary here would seem to be either Alex Officer or Artie Rowell. Both were fighting to be the starting center (though Rowell was an option to play at guard as well). If Pitt sticks with Officer there, instead of serving as a backup there or at guard, Rowell, could then slide into the starting guard spot with Bookser moving to tackle.

That would present a starting lineup of Officer at center, Rowell and Dorian Johnson at guard, and Adam Bisnowaty and Bookser at tackle. Between that group, you've got several highly-touted guys - Johnson, Bisnowaty, and Bookser were either four- or five-star recruits.

Everything isn't perfect, though. There are also some definite question marks.

Rowell missed most of last season with an ACL injury and hasn't seen game action in quite a while. Not only that, but this configuration would also mean he would be playing guard. To be fair, that isn't a completely new position to him since he was actually a guard in high school. Still, the change after playing center in college is at the very least, noteworthy. It's not an impossible change, considering Rowell as experience there from high school. But facing off against more agile interior linemen is going to present somewhat of a challenge.

And while Bookser is a talented lineman expected to make waves, there's no guarantee that he succeeds right away. He'll almost certainly have his share of struggles as he not only gets onto the field for the first time, but starts. Then, add in the factor that he'll be playing tackle, facing off against faster defensive ends instead of interior linemen. Bookser didn't play at all last year and is really just getting his feet wet. Johnson was an even more regarded recruit than Bookser and he struggled when thrown into the fire for the first time.

The good news is that, for now, Pitt has options thanks in large part to former head coach Paul Chryst stocking the cupboard of the offensive line. The Panthers would be in a far worse position with less depth so Jones-Smith's injury isn't the end of the world. It gives the unit less margin for error and another big injury to the group could make things interesting. But Pitt has some depth to weather things like this.

Beyond the guys mentioned, the Panthers still have Gabe Roberts, who is a converted center with some experience. You probably don't want Roberts starting several games, but he's adequate to fill in. There's also sophomore guard Carson Baker, who played in some games as a reserve last year. Mike Grimm, Mike Herndon, and Aaron Reese are all others with little or no experience (Reese played in one game).

The Jones-Smith injury coupled by the losses of Clemmings and Rotheram will mean several changes coming for this year. Fortunately, the Panthers have some options at their disposal.

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