A couple focus stories in the dailies today.
Manasseh Garner is really happy in Pitt’s offense.
Thoughtful and soft-spoken, tight end Manasseh Garner was not trying to brag Tuesday when he was asked to describe his duties in the Pitt offense.
“Linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, I feel like, personally, you line me up against anybody and I’m going to win,” he said.
Strong words from Garner, a Brashear graduate who scored a touchdown against Florida State, his first game at Pitt since transferring from Wisconsin.
Garner, a junior, has much to prove in his remaining time, but at 6-foot-2, 230-pounds he combines the requisite size and speed that attracts attention from opposing defenses and has the potential to confuse them.
Especially when you consider how Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph uses him — splitting him out like a wide receiver and lining him up tight against the linemen to block. Garner said he’s a receiver 40 percent of the time
“That’s something that is really in his wheelhouse,” Rudolph said of lining up wide, “and he adapts to it easily.”
Versatile. That’s probably the best way to describe Garner. What’s great is his versatility is being used. It isn’t just trying to fit him into one mold. It is taking advantage of what he can do when the situation calls for it.
It is amazing that when he was recruited out of high school he was expected to play on the defense. Either as an outside linebacker or a defensive end. Great hands. Knows what he is doing in the offense. Yeah, his athleticism would be welcome on either side of the ball, but he is a real weapon on offense.
Meanwhile, we learn that Pitt had decided to play James Conner at running back even before the depth at the spot dropped precipitously.
…a year ago pretty much every school recruiting Conner was doing so for his pass-rushing ability.
As his senior season at Erie McDowell progressed, though, it became pretty clear that he had the skills to play running back in college. As the Pitt coaches watched his tape, Conner became their standard for other running backs they thought about recruiting.
“We began to watch him, and he had a want-to to play that position,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “We had a need as we were going down. He really became the benchmark for ‘Do we need to sign another guy? Are they better than what James is?’ ”
By the end of the season, Conner had rushed for 1,680 yards and 21 touchdowns. In December, Rudolph told him that he would join the Panthers as a running back.
“I was pretty excited,” Conner said. “I had been playing it ever since I was younger.”
Which makes the training camp comments from Coach Paul Chryst that James Conner, “earned the right to stay at running back” another day, a sign of how much he likes having his own private joke on the media.