Inexperience at wideout leads to tentative play
Entering last season, Gary Nova’s top three wide receivers collectively had more than five seasons of combined significant game experience.
This season, the Rutgers football team’s junior quarterback has only one of those three — junior Brandon Coleman — and only one other wideout — senior Quron Pratt — that has seen more time at receiver than on special teams.
The rest of the receiving corps consists of junior Miles Shuler, sophomore Leonte Carroo and four redshirt freshmen that have yet to play a game at Rutgers.
To make their job that much harder, with the introduction of new offensive coordinator Ron Prince, the receivers have had to get used to a new system.
Nova sees that translate to some mistakes on the practice field.
“Some of them are playing a little tentative because they don’t want to make a mistake,” Nova said. “That’s understandable. We all know how that feels.”
Although the options past Coleman and Pratt do not have the experience, they have time to develop chemistry, something they lacked in their redshirt seasons.
With Coleman sidelined for the spring while recovering from offseason surgery, redshirt freshman Carlton Agudosi — one of only two other receivers taller than 6-foot-4 — has had an opportunity to show his abilities.
“Carlton goes up and gets the ball. When you have a guy with size, that’s what you want out of him,” Nova said. “He also has some speed so when he catches the ball, he’s a weapon with it.”
Nova said Agudosi can climb the ladder to grab balls out of the air as well as anyone on the team.
But he is not the only redshirt freshman to make an impression on the coaching staff.
Linden, N.J., native Ruhann Peele has emerged as one of the leading candidates to garner an increased workload in the slot.
Nova is encouraged by not only Peele’s catching ability, but also his ability to make opposing defenders miss — something Peele said is central to his game.
In order to make that a truly effective weapon, Peele said he has to make sure he catches the ball first.
“I have to work on looking the ball in,” he said. “When I see it coming, I try to get my head around fast, before I catch it. Making people miss, that’s my thing. I can never let one man tackle me.”
While all of the young receivers are making strides on the field, head coach Kyle Flood said they have a long way to go.
He said he still needs to see them improve in each part of the position, from getting off the ball to their moves after the catch, and everything in between.
“There are so many aspects to playing that position,” Flood. “You can’t perfect them. Nobody gets to a higher level of efficiency in one spring. We’ve got a long way to go.”
With the Knights’ offensive line retaining five of its six players that saw significant starting time last season, expectations would be that those five constitute this season’s starting line.
But yesterday’s practice gave a strong indication that there are more than five players being given consideration.
Junior Kaleb Johnson, last year’s starting left tackle, took several reps at left guard, a position he has not seen time at in two seasons at Rutgers. Junior Taj Alexander played at right tackle and sophomore Keith Lumpkin — the only one of the three that did not start last season — played at left tackle.
“He has earned the right to be in the conversation,” Flood said of Lumpkin. “I think now we have to move the pieces around to figure out who are going to be the best five and try to set that depth chart up as we go into training camp.”
Flood also included senior Andre Civil and redshirt freshman J.J. Denman in the list.
Junior center Betim Bujari and senior guard Antwan Lowery were not mentioned in the conversation of switching positions along the line.
An already short list decreased by one yesterday, at least for the duration of the spring and likely the early portion of training camp.
Freshman running back Dontea Ayres suffered a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s scrimmage.
That leaves junior Savon Huggins and redshirt freshmen Desmon Peoples and Aubrey Lewis as the only healthy tailbacks currently on the roster.
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