Pitt’s Manasseh Garner was a man between positions for most of last season.
He was listed as a tight end, but also played more than his share of wide receiver and H-back.
Not that it affected his production. Garner finished 2013 as Pitt’s third-leading receiver with 33 catches for 391 yards and three touchdowns.
Heading into spring practice this year, Garner switched to wide receiver and appears to be the favorite to land a starting job opposite star Tyler Boyd.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst, though, still will get creative with how he uses Garner, a redshirt senior.
“I think he’ll end up being kind of his own [position],” Chryst said. “He’s got a different skill set, so we’ve got to play to that. I think right now, in kind of assessing the drills and the drill work, he could benefit more from some of the receiver stuff than the in-line blocking. I think that’ll come back to him pretty fast.”
Garner has slimmed down for his new role, at 215 pounds now compared to 235 last season, and said he can feel the change when he does individual drills with his new position group.
“I’m still able to do some of the stuff on the inside, but I’m getting the rewards and able to catch some more passes now,” Garner said.
Garner is one of many players who have raved about new strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej and the program he brought to the Panthers this offseason.
“They’re detailed in everything that they want,” Garner said of the staff. “They work with you one-on-one. That’s one of the main things. I can go in there to talk to them, see what I need to get better at, just break it down.”
So far this spring, Garner has worked exclusively with the receivers in position drills, but Chryst said it’s likely that he’ll bounce back and forth between that group and the tight ends as the season approaches.
For his part, Garner said he doesn’t mind switching it up.
“My versatility, to be able to be physical and be able to run routes like a receiver but still go in there and use my tight end blocking skills, be on the inside of the box, that allows me to go back and forth,” he said.
Part of the early work this spring will be developing a rapport with new receivers coach Greg Lewis. Garner spent time towards the end of last year with former receivers coach Bobby Engram and said he liked the experience of working with an NFL veteran. That hasn’t changed with Lewis, who retired from professional football in 2010.
“He’s a real cool coach,” Garner said. “He’s detailed, but at the same time he’s able to [joke around] with us. We’re able to just communicate and have a good conversation.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.