It shouldn't be surprising that Pittsburgh will have one of the nation's best tight end duos this season. After all, having productive tight ends is commonplace for second-year coach Paul Chryst.
Before becoming the Panthers' coach, Chryst spent seven seasons as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator. His offenses with the Badgers were known for having huge linemen, productive rushing attacks and loads of talented tight ends, guys such as Owen Daniel, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks.
In Chryst's tenure at Wisconsin, a tight end was in the top three on the team in receptions every season, and in four of those six seasons, a tight end led Wisconsin in receiving (Beckum in 2006 and '07, Graham in '08 and Kendricks in '10).
This season, Chryst will be counting on sophomore J.P. Holtz (6-feet-4, 245) and junior Manasseh Garner (6-2, 230), a Pittsburgh native who sat out last season after transferring from -- wait for it -- Wisconsin. (Garner's first name is pronounced "muh-NESS-uh.")
Holtz, who started 10 games last season as true freshman, is on his way to becoming a solid all-around tight end; Garner, who played some wide receiver at Wisconsin, is a good receiver who has some work to do as a blocker. It wouldn't be a surprise if those two, in some order, are the No. 2 and 3 receivers for Pitt this season, behind star senior wide receiver Devin Street.
Holtz won over teammates and coaches last season with his toughness; while he can become more physical, he certainly showed a lot of want-to as a blocker last season. He caught just 13 passes, but most of his production came late in the season and he did have three TD catches. His knowledge of the offense has improved and he should become a receiving weapon this fall rather than an afterthought, as he was last season.
There is no question about Garner's receiving ability. He also can play some at H-back, and his athleticism helped him stand out during spring practice. Garner has the speed to get deep and the hands to make tough catches. He and Holtz should be on the field together often, and coaches hope mismatches abound.
True freshman Scott Orndoff (6-5, 255), a consensus national top-20 tight end recruit, also will see time. He enrolled early and went through spring practice, where he impressed coaches with his receiving and blocking. Chryst loves multiple tight end sets and could end up having Holtz, Garner and Orndoff playing together at times.