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August 14, 2013

Garner is ready to own his position

Manasseh Garner doesn't want to just play his position. He wants to own it.

"Coach (Mickey) Turner, Coach (Joe) Rudolph, they're continually pressing on me," he said. "They're on me everyday, owning your position, owning your spot, owning what you do well. That's something I take pride in."

Garner will be a focal point of Pitt's offense this season. Playing as an H-back, he'll create mismatches with opposing defenses and have an integral role in the passing game. He has been impressive through the first week of training camp in all aspects of his position, but he said he's still working to own his spot.

"I feel like I'm striving to do that," Garner said. "I'm trying to stay as humble as I can. I won't say that I own it yet, but I'm continually making progress and getting there."

If and when Garner can "get there," he can provide a very dangerous weapon for Pitt's pro-style offense. At 6'2" 230, he has the athleticism of a receiver, the position he played at Wisconsin for two seasons before transferring to Pitt. But his size is closer a tight end, which creates a problem for opposing defenses, since he'll face favorable match-ups this season against cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers.

The coaches will also deploy him a number of ways, too. He can line up like a traditional tight end, flex out wide, go to the slot or even set in the backfield. Garner's versatility should make him more effective in the passing game and, in turn, benefit the offense as a whole.

"I think my role is versatile," he said. "I'm in the box and blocking, and I'm able to get out there and run, get some mismatch situations with corners and receivers.

"The role that I bring to the team is that versatile role, being able to do some things that bigger tight ends might not be able to do and doing some things that the receivers may not be able to do, fitting in between that role of receiver and tight end."

Even though he is a talented receiver, the biggest improvement Garner can bring to the position is his blocking ability. Last season, with Drew Carswell playing H-back, Pitt's offense was limited in running situations due to Carswell's lackluster blocking.

But with Garner in the mix, Pitt doesn't have to substitute tight ends between running and passing downs. He can effectively block for the running game and then do damage in the passing attack without the offense having changed personnel.

Garner's versatility is part of what should be an effective tight end group. He and sophomore J.P. Holtz and incoming freshman Scott Orndoff provide different skillsets, but they're not worried about the competition at the position.

"We don't really look at it like that," Garner said. "We all bring a different aspect to our position whether it's blocking, being a better pass protector, being able to run better routes. We all bring different aspects to the tight end position.

"Just me, I feel like I'm able to bring some of my receiver qualities that I learned as a receiver, playing receiver for two years, so I'm able to bring that to the tight end position. We all have things that we're better at, and we're able to feed off each other every single day."

There are several questions surrounding Pitt's passing game in 2013. The Panthers will be breaking in a new quarterback, most likely fifth-year senior Tom Savage, but there are doubts on the receiver side as well.

Devin Street returns to build on his 73-catch, 975-yard and five-touchdown performance in 2012, but the rest of the position is full of questions. The next leading pass-catcher coming back is Holtz with 13 catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns, and Pitt doesn't return any wide receievers who recorded a reception in 2012 beyond Street and redshirt senior Ed Tinker, who caught five passes last season. (This doesn't include Ronald Jones, since he's suspended for the 2013 season.)

Garner has the potential to answer some of those concerns with his unique skill set and could finish as one of the team's leading receivers, but the redshirt junior isn't putting any undue pressure on himself.

"Not at all; each and every day I come out here and attack practice," he said. "I really don't try to put pressure on myself by thinking what the outside world thinks, or what they expect out of me because that's not my job to do. I just try to focus on my assignments and do what I do. What I'm able to do is give my all. Whatever comes out of that, that's what fans are going to see."

Regardless of what happens, Garner's excited to get back on the field. After sitting out the 2012 season due to NCAA transfer rules, he eager to play and contribute to the offense.

"It's a lot of anticipation for me, a lot of excitement," he said. "Being able to sit out last year was a blessing because I was able to get my body healthy, just build off some of the things I needed to get better at to transition into this position. It was a blessing in itself, but I'm very hungry right now. I'm just taking each and every day of these camps. It's a grind but I'm taking it all in and moving forward."





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