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Romeus primed for big junior year

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Greg Romeus managed to wolf down four lobsters and had thoughts about many more at last week's Big East clam bake before the buffet line ran out of crustaceans.

"I could have definitely kept going," he said.

Big East offensive linemen already know what a terror the Pittsburgh defensive end can be when he's got a full head of steam. Now here's a scary thought for them: Romeus should be much better this year.

As a sophomore, the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder registered 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in his first year as a starter. But he wasn't all that happy with the way he played.

For one thing, Romeus had to deal with nagging back pain throughout the year. That has since been rectified, thanks to minor surgery in the offseason.

"I don't want to use it as an excuse, but it affected my pad level and things like that," he said. "Now I'm a lot stronger and I'm able to bend better. I think it will make me better on the pass rush."

And though his size and athleticism belies it, Romeus still didn't really know what he was doing all the time on the field last year. The former basketball player didn't get involved with organized football until his senior year of high school. After three years of coaching (he redshirted his first season), Romeus is now starting to feel like he understands the nuances of the game.

"I couldn't even get in a stance when I first got here," he said. "I think I've improved, but I've still got so much to learn. I made a lot of mistakes last year and there were a lot of things I messed up that I shouldn't do again this year."

He and fellow junior Jabaal Sheard (5.5 sacks, 10.5 TFLs in '08) form the most imposing pair of defensive ends in the league. Romeus said he and Sheard push each other every day in practice, talking smack about who can get to the quarterback first and most often.

With those two, senior tackles Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas and plenty of depth behind them, Pitt ought to have the most formidable and experienced defensive line in the Big East, with the possible exception of South Florida.

"We're going to go out and work hard to try and get better every day," Romeus said. "But I think we can have one of the best defensive lines in the country.