ACC: Manasseh Garner

Chad Voytik committed to Pitt during the short-lived Todd Graham era. He made it a point to stay after Graham's departure, and his two-plus years with Paul Chryst have proven to be productive.

Voytik stepped in for an injured Tom Savage during last year's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, playing the entire second half and rushing for a score to cap a 30-27 win over Bowling Green. He now enters his redshirt sophomore season as the expected starter under center for the Panthers, with a nice little momentum boost carrying him through this offseason.

ESPN.com caught up with Voytik this week to chat about his expectations for 2014.

What's been going on behind the scenes before camp opens next month?

Chad Voytik: We usually throw every day before our workouts and then we'll lift, of course, lift and run, so we're getting in good shape, we're getting stronger and we're working on our timing as well, our mechanics and all that stuff. And then I've tried to really attack the film room as well. I've spent a lot of time with our GAs and stuff, so it's been a really helpful time for me as far as learning and studying opponents' film and stuff, so it's been a really important time for me.

[+] EnlargeChad Voytik
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesChad Voytik said he benefited from playing in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. "It was honestly probably the best thing that could happen," he said.
What specifics are you working on?

CV: I'd say No. 1, I'm just trying to continue to work on my feet and to not always escape -- in other words, be able to step up and deliver throws if they're there. So continue to work on that. And you can never get too accurate, so I'm still continuing to drill in that and throw to receivers and stuff and try to get that as well as I can.

Take me back through the Pizza Bowl. We all know what happened. What were the emotions and nerves like for you when Tom went down?

CV: Being a backup quarterback sometimes isn't the easiest thing, and Tom took some nice hits throughout the year. So your stomach drops, you start warming up, it's not a great feeling. And then going into the bowl game I knew he was still a little bit banged up, and I saw him take that shot to the ribs and (he) got up slow. And immediately you're filled with nerves and you're getting anxious. ... It was definitely nerve-wracking at first, but honestly, it's a close game and we all needed to come together closer for the second half. As soon as you get out there it goes away and it's just football again.

Looking back, how much confidence has that given you going into this year?

CV: It was honestly probably the best thing that could happen. Of course (I) never want Tom to get hurt, but just having that little bit of experience when there was an actual game on the line, it wasn't just mop-up duty, it was really key for me I think as far as confidence and leadership and stuff, so (I) definitely carried some momentum over into the offseason and hopefully continue to carry it over.

How do you balance being the No. 1 guy without officially having the title of starter yet?

CV: It's still a competition. Coach Chyrst always says there's nothing bad about competition, in that he always wants us competing, and he would never declare a starter now. And it truly is an open competition right now, so I'm just continuing to work and just staying hungry, because nothing's guaranteed, and continue just to try to work like I am the starter and hopefully I can step into that role.

We all know about Tyler Boyd. Who else do you feel is going to step up in the passing game?

CV: Manasseh Garner's I guess a pretty familiar face, and he's been working really hard. And we have some young guys, we have freshmen coming in working hard. It's tough to pinpoint on one guy. My receiving corps, they've been out there every day with me just working really hard and always eager to work and always asking me if I'm going to throw that day or whatnot, so I really appreciate that out of them. It's helped me a lot, because if they're ready to work then that means even if I don't feel like it I have to be ready to work and then we're all getting better because of it, so it's definitely been good.

The parallels are obviously there on the surface: A Paul Chryst protege, undersized, No. 16. How often do the Russell Wilson analogies come your way? Ever talk to him or Coach about him?

CV: They don't come my way a lot. I've definitely heard it at times, but I always tell Coach Chryst: 'If I can be a successful college quarterback, then go on to win a Super Bowl trophy, then you can start comparing me.' (laughs) I'm always asking him about what Russell did, what Scottie Tolzien did. I always want to hear how they worked and how they approached it, because they all have regrets, they all have things they learned, and I want to know what they learned throughout their experience with him. So I ask him a lot about specifics, like, 'When Russell is put in this position, how would he react?' So different things like that, because it's really interesting to me, and it wasn't too long ago he was coaching him, so I like to hear that stuff.

Going back to when you first signed with Pitt: Why was it important to you to stick with Pitt after the guy who recruited you left? What stood out about Coach Chryst?

CV: The reason I stayed, I think honestly, is because I had already built relationships here. I was already committed for such a long time and I already felt locked in. Yeah, I could've de-committed, but to a certain degree, it wouldn't have been productive for me. I liked everything about Pittsburgh and I liked the people. Coach Chryst being the man that he was, I could tell his honesty, how different he was from the past regime and stuff. So it was just the right thing to do, I felt. He laid out a nice plan, and you just knew from the time he walked in here that he wanted to change things. And it wasn't the same pep talk that every coach comes in with, like ready to change the whole program. He was willing to change it from the inside out, he did it the right way and I think we all saw that.

Seeing Tom's pre-draft stock take the kind of rise it did and ending up in a good situation down in Houston, did you talk to him during that time? And just from your perspective, being close with him and knowing that he went through some of the things you're about to go through, what did you make of all that?

CV: I was so happy for him. If anyone deserves it, it's Tom. Just a great guy. He just got engaged actually. Just a great guy, and I was so happy for him. And yeah, I'm thrilled. I'll be texting him when camp starts or whatever if I need any advice or guidance, because he's always been kind of, not a mentor, but he's always been a really good friend of mine, and he's had the experience. Definitely someone I can lean on when I need words of wisdom.

ACC's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
12:00
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My NCAA picks were dreadful, but I think I'm still doing well in my Seinfeld bracket challenge. Go Soup Nazi!
 

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:

Duke

Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Miami

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Pitt

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Virginia

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.

ACC lunchtime links

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
12:00
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Tomorrow is game night in Raleigh!

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
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This is what it means to be link'd in ...

Transfers to watch in the ACC

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
10:30
AM ET
Freshmen are not the only players with an opportunity to make an immediate impact in the ACC this season. Let's not forget about several transfer players now eligible and ready to make their own mark.

Here is a look at the top eligible transfers in the league with the most potential to turn some heads:

Drew Allen, QB, Syracuse. The Orange actually have three transfers eligible this year -- receiver Quinta Funderburk and defensive tackle John Raymon are the other two. But neither are listed as a starter on the post-spring depth chart. Allen isn't either, but he hasn't yet had an opportunity to show what he can do. Allen will arrive in time for fall practice after deciding to come in from Oklahoma. He has immediate eligibility, and joins the mix to win the starting quarterback job with Terrel Hunt and Charley Loeb his primary competition.

Kellen Jones, LB, Clemson. We all know the Tigers need some help on defense, and they are hoping Jones fits the bill. Jones transferred from Oklahoma and sat out last season because of NCAA rules. During his time at Clemson, Jones has learned all three linebacker spots in order to make himself much more valuable to the team. He is athletic and familiar with coordinator Brent Venables from their time with the Sooners. If he's as good as coaches expect him to be, Clemson's D should be better.

Deon Long, WR, Maryland. The Terps already were expecting an immediate contribution from Long, a junior college transfer who began his career at New Mexico. But you can bet expectations will be even higher now that second-leading receiver Marcus Leak has left the team for personal reasons.

Brandon Mitchell OR Pete Thomas, QBs, NC State. Mitchell is in a similar spot to Allen -- he has immediate eligibility this season for the Wolfpack after transferring in from Arkansas and joins an open quarterback competition. Thomas himself transferred in last year but had to sit out a season because of NCAA rules. In that season, the head coach and offensive style changed, so his pro-style gifts do not necessarily match what Dave Doeren wants to do. Still, Thomas showed some flashes this spring though Doeren is reluctant to give anybody the edge just yet. With Mitchell now joining Thomas and Manny Stocker in the mix, it's anybody's guess who will start the opener.

Pat O'Donnell, P, Miami. Scoff if you must, but O'Donnell is a terrific punter and a workout warrior, and fills a gaping hole on the Hurricanes' roster. Miami may return nearly all its starters on offense and defense, but not on special teams, where the Hurricanes have to replace both punter Dalton Botts and kicker Jake Wieclaw. Getting a punter the caliber of O'Donnell, who transferred from Cincinnati and is immediately eligible, helps ease a big concern.

Matt Patchan, OL, Boston College. The Eagles need major help on the offensive line and could get it in the form of Patchan, who has immediate eligibility after transferring in from Florida. He will be available for fall practice. The only issue to keep in mind is he has been injury prone for his entire career.

Tom Savage, QB, Pitt. It's been a long road back to the football field for Savage, who transferred twice after leaving Rutgers in 2010. Now here he is with one season of eligibility remaining and an opportunity to win the starting job. Though coach Paul Chryst has yet to declare a starter, Savage at least has starting experience. Still, he and Chad Voytik remain in an open competition headed into fall practice. Another Pitt player to watch: Wisconsin transfer tight end Manasseh Garner.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
12:00
PM ET
Happy St. Patrick's Day, ACC fans ...

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