Five quarterbacks split equal reps to begin spring practice
With senior Gary Nova officially competing to win back the starting quarterback job, the Rutgers football team is already feeling the disadvantages of doling reps to five players at the position.
Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano, sophomore Blake Rankin, junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman walk-on Devin Ray evenly split reps with Nova yesterday on the first day of spring practice.
Head coach Kyle Flood has made clear that whoever becomes the starter must protect the football above all else. None of the candidates made a strong early impression, as sporadic timing with receivers led to several interceptions.
“I didn’t think we were particularly accurate throwing the football at any of the spots at quarterback,” Flood said. “When you have that many quarterbacks under center, the cadence is going to be different. Not everybody’s cadence is exactly the same, even though we’re using the same counts.”
The plan is for all five quarterbacks to take equal reps through the third practice Saturday before the coaching staff makes “preliminary decisions” on narrowing the distribution of snaps, Flood said.
With 28 career starts, Nova is the only quarterback on the roster with collegiate game experience. For the first spring session, Flood admitted communication issues are normal.
But although a starter might not be named until training camp, the second-year head coach insists the competition ultimately cannot compromise continuity on offense.
“I don’t want to overreact to [the first practice], but I don’t want to live in denial of it, either. It wasn’t good enough,” Flood said. “If we’re going to start really making progress as an offense, we’re going to have to start limiting the reps that everybody takes. I don’t think you can have a football team where you rep five quarterbacks.”
No quarterbacks will be made available to the media until after the seventh spring practice, according to Rutgers Athletic Communications.
With the departures of Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt, third-year sophomore Ruhann Peele is listed as a starting wide receiver alongside junior Leonte Carroo in the Scarlet Knights’ initial spring depth chart.
Peele hauled in a modest 28 catches for 281 yards and a touchdown last season in just four starts, but he remains one of Rutgers’ more physically gifted athletes.
In addition to playing receiver, the Linden, N.J., native saw time at cornerback last year in the Knights’ thin secondary hampered with injuries and inexperience. He played both sides of the ball both Nov. 30 at UConn and snagged an interception Nov. 16 against Cincinnati.
But Peele is back to play strictly on offense, where his role as a receiver is expected to expand to playing the outside. He exclusively played the slot position last season.
“My biggest goal right now is understanding the playbook more so I don’t have to think when I’m out there and I can just play to my highest level,” Peele said. “There’s a lot of rotation. I just want to know it all because there’s no set position. Everybody is rotating a little, so I’m really excited for that and I’m just trying to learn every position and just know it confidently.”
Senior Kevin Snyder will switch with sophomore Steve Longa from WILL (weakside linebacker) to MIKE (middle linebacker) this season.
Flood said Monday in his pre-spring news conference that the coaching staff, which includes a new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, determined after studying film of last season that the new spots are where both players will be most productive.
Longa racked up a team-high 123 tackles last year — the most for Rutgers at middle linebacker since Gary Brackett in 2002. But with his superior speed, he could benefit from playing on the outside and dropping back more into pass coverage on slot receivers.
Snyder’s shift places a bigger emphasis on stopping the run and calling out defensive formations.
“I think it’s a good move. I have no problems playing either position, and I think Steve could say the same,” Snyder said. “There really wasn’t much talk about it, there was not really much of a transition phase. I started looking at the MIKE and he started looking at the WILL stuff, and we just kind of changed.”