Sophomore takes advantage of Kroft’s absence from practice
Seeing the numbers Tyler Kroft put up last season at tight end — a team-high 43 catches for 573 yards, both top-10 nationally — was all Nick Arcidiacono needed to have faith in his development with the Rutgers football team.
Then after the sophomore found out Kroft would likely be out for the spring with a shoulder injury, he got even more fired up.
“I was real excited coming in. I knew all winter that I was going to be the number one guy for spring, and I approached it that way,” Arcidiacono said Tuesday. “I came in and I really wanted to know my stuff and try to be a leader out here.”
As the Scarlet Knights’ only tight end besides Kroft with game experience, Arcidiacono realizes the importance of solidifying himself as a serviceable backup to the junior.
He has gotten an opportunity to showcase his talent in spring practice, working mostly with the first-team offense and receiving valuable reps at the position.
New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, who helped develop NFL All-Pro tight end Vernon Davis at Maryland, figures to run tight end-friendly schemes. Arcidiacono said Friedgen is installing plenty of double tight end sets and placing an emphasis on slot receivers.
But more than anything, positive feedback from coaches and adjusting to the speed of the game after seeing action in seven contests as a true freshman has fueled Arcidiacono’s confidence.
“I have a lot more fire. Last year, I was a younger guy going out there, not really knowing what to expect,” Arcidiacono said. “But now I know what to expect, so I go out there 110 percent and going full speed all the time. That’s the biggest difference for me. I really worked this offseason on my route running, worked on my technique. That’s what I’ve improved the most.”
The 6-foot-5 sophomore also worked on his blocking to see the field more, bulking up to 230 pounds over the offseason and making similar strides to Kroft in becoming a more complete tight end.
With experience as a two-way lineman at Archbishop Wood (Pa.) High School, Arcidiacono feels comfortable doing so.
“In high school, we didn’t really pass the ball much. I was primarily a blocker,” he said. “I’ve always been kind of an athlete. I played a lot of positions like fullback, running back. That’s why it comes naturally to me.”
Along with redshirt freshmen Matt Flanagan and Taylor Marini, Arcidiacono is taking full advantage of his opportunity this spring in head coach Kyle Flood’s eyes.
“I think all three of those guys have really made progress,” Flood said. “There’s no substitute for reps, and to get reps against some talented defensive players I think has been really good for all three of those guys. They’re certainly much further along now than they were at the end of last season.”
With Rutgers’ second spring scrimmage set for tomorrow, Flood is anxious to evaluate performances of players further down the depth chart.
All eyes will again be on the quarterback competition between senior Gary Nova, junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano. But Flood is also interested in gauging the continuation of impressive springs from Knights such as redshirt freshman Myles Nash and sophomore L.J. Liston at linebacker.
“It always starts at the quarterback position,” Flood said yesterday. “But I think when you move past that position, it’s really the second-tier players, the guys who are really fighting to break into the starting lineup or the guys that are fighting to work into the depth on the offensive line, in the secondary. I think those to me are some of the more key positions.”
Flood responded to the NCAA voting Tuesday to allow programs to provide unlimited meals to both scholarship and walk-on student athletes.
Schools were previously restricted to serving three meals a day to scholarship athletes.
“I think it makes a lot of sense,” Flood said. “I never really understood why you can only have one training meal a day if we’re trying to teach these players about proper nutrition and they’re working to the degree that they’re working.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.