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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Chad Voytik isn't offended by the term "game manager," though the Pittsburgh quarterback might be the only one.
He's cool with the label as the guy whose main job is to hand off to running back James Conner or throw to wide receiver Tyler Boyd and get the heck out of the way.
Press him on it and Voytik responds by working the word "manager" into answers, sounding more like employee No. 1 than the potential X-factor on a team seeking forward momentum after four straight years of finishing 6-7 or 7-6.
"I'm OK with whatever," Voytik said. "I'm a roll with the punches kind of guy."
Consider it a defense mechanism developed from having to quiet doubters who wonder how a largely nondescript 6-foot-1, 215-pound player found himself in charge of an offense that has two dynamic players in Boyd and Conner who are on the fast track to the NFL.
"I have no problem with them getting recognition and I'm just the guy getting them the ball," Voytik said. "If that comes with personal recognition as well, so be it but that's not what I'm after."
Voytik's journey is about respect, not for himself but for his program. The Panthers were picked to finish sixth in the jumbled ACC Coastal Division under Pat Narduzzi, whose initial season at Pitt begins on Saturday against Youngstown State. Voytik is fine in the underdog role, mainly because he doesn't feel like much of one anymore. The nerves that he felt before his first collegiate start last fall have been replaced by something more akin to excitement and confidence.
"I'm more anxious for the game ready to prove people wrong and stuff," he said. "We feel like we can do better than what they projected for us."
To get there the Panthers will need Voytik to be less indifferent and more of a difference maker. He was steady if not spectacular as a sophomore, throwing for 2,233 yards and 16 touchdowns against just seven interceptions while twice going over 100 yards rushing thanks to some surprising mobility. He spent a portion of the offseason refining his mechanics, working out at the Manning Passing Academy and focusing on increased flexibility to help with his accuracy after he completed just 61 percent of his throws in 2014.
Toss in the natural maturation expected from a player with a full season to draw from and an innovative offensive coordinator who knows something about getting the best out of undersized quarterbacks and Voytik is at peace with who he is — and who he isn't — as a player.
"From studying the game you're going to get better, as long as you don't get too much info where it bogs you down," he said. "I feel like I know more about the game."
It kind of comes with the territory when sitting in a room next to Jim Chaney, the folksy and well-traveled coordinator whose former pupils include Drew Brees, who like Voytik doesn't exactly have a commanding physical presence. Comparing Voytik to Brees isn't fair, but Chaney — unlike Voytik — takes exception to the idea Voytik is an automaton with limited capability.
"He can make the passes I'm asking him to make and when the play breaks down he can go and be a football player, which I like," Chaney said. "I like his ad-lib ability."
Something Chaney is encouraging Voytik to embrace. When the two first met over the winter, Chaney was concerned Voytik was too much of a perfectionist, something that can become counterproductive in a game with so many moving parts. Chaney told Voytik to relax a little bit and not get caught up in the minutiae that comes from being a notorious micromanager.
"I think he's becoming a little bit like me, slappy," Chaney said, "meaning he's learning that it's OK, you don't have to be perfect to make a play."
Letting go of old habits isn't easy, yet Voytik is learning to adapt. Hey, it's what he does.
"Of course I want to put the ball exactly where it needs to be," Voytik said. "But little things like that where it would have frustrated me (before), (now it's) hey we're moving the chains, let's keep it rolling and stay positive."
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