With his inspiring recovery from Hodgkin lymphoma and 37 career rushing touchdowns, star junior running back James Conner has certainly earned his status as the face of Pitt Panthers football.
Scouts looking for Pittsburgh Panthers ‘s top NFL prospects, however, are focusing closer to the line of scrimmage on tackle Adam Bisnowaty and guard Dorian Johnson , both seniors, who arguably make up the best left side in all of college football.
The duo and the rest of Pitt’s offensive line put on a clinic Saturday against Penn State, clearing lanes for Conner and seven other runners to rumble for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a highly entertaining 42-39 Panthers’ victory in the 97th edition of the intense state rivalry.
The final score was surprising given how much Pittsburgh dominated this game in the trenches early. Give Penn State credit: James Franklin ‘s young team responded in the second half to make this game interesting late, but the Panthers leapt to a 28-14 halftime lead primarily because they outrushed the Nittany Lions 226 to 48 over the first two quarters.
From the opening series, it was obvious that a Penn State front that had lost NFL draft picks Austin Johnson (second round to the Tennessee Titans ), Carl Nassib (third round, Cleveland Browns ) and Anthony Zettel (sixth round, Lions) to the NFL a year ago would struggle against Pitt’s rugged running game.
Penn State’s lack of experience up front was further exacerbated with injuries to starting middle linebacker Jason Cabinda and defensive tackle Kevin Givens . Creative play-calling from offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who sprinkled in shovel passes, jet-sweeps and play-action bootlegs with quarterback Nathan Peterman , also contributed to the onslaught.
To chalk up Pitt’s success just to advantages in experience and play-calling, however, doesn’t give enough credit to Bisnowaty and Johnson, a pair of 6-foot-5, 300-pounders who check in at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on NFLDraftScout.com’s 2017 rankings of the top tackles and guards.
With his broad shoulders, long arms and higher-cut frame, Bisnowaty possesses the athletic, almost TE-like build scouts are looking for in today’s modern offensive tackle. While his build may suggest a finesse style of play, Bisnowaty’s aggression and physicality certainly counters that perception. He plays with a guard’s mentality, firing off the snap in the running game and supplying a powerful initial punch to jolt opponents.
Pitt’s dominant running game allowed for few opportunities to see Bisnowaty in pass protection. When passes were called, however, the Panthers showed confidence in his ability to protect Peterman’s blind side, rolling the Tennessee Volunteers transfer to his right. Bisnowaty shows good initial quickness and lateral agility with short, choppy steps to “chuck” his way in reverse, and he can control edge rushers with his long arms and powerful grip. Bisnowaty allows his pads to rise as he retreats in pass protection but he shows the ability to anchor, showing good core flexibility and at least adequate balance to remain outside at tackle in the NFL.
While Bisnowaty’s best attribute is his strength, it is Johnson’s footwork which will earn high marks from scouts.
A big part of Pitt’s success on the fly-sweeps and shovel passes against Penn State was a direct result of Johnson’s ability to pull and block on the move. Showing light feet and good balance, Johnson quickly slipped out of his stance, climbing to the second level. Johnson isn’t just athletic, he’s savvy. His experience shows up while blocking at the second level, where Johnson shows vision and anticipation to track and attack with greater finishing power and intensity than in previous years.
Like Bisowaty, Johnson carries his 300 pounds very well, sporting thick limbs with no extra weight around the middle. His balance and lateral agility make him quite effective in pass protection, as well.
The only player currently ranked higher among senior guards on NFLDraftScout.com’s board is Indiana Hoosiers ‘s Dan Feeney , a reigning All-American and projected first-round pick. For all of Feeney’s talent, Johnson could be seen by scouts as an easier projection to the NFL because Pittsburgh runs a pro-style offense, as opposed to Indiana’s up-tempo spread attack.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Pitt’s elite left side confirms NFL Draft stock by dominating Penn State