Kroft adjusts to increased defensive attention
As a selection to the preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, annually given to the nation’s top tight end, Tyler Kroft figured Washington State’s defense would center its game plan on the 2013 breakout star.
Still, to have zero catches Thursday night after leading the Rutgers football team in receiving last season left a somewhat sour taste in the junior’s mouth.
“I was pretty much doubled and tripled the entire game, but there were also plays where I was left kind of out on my own, too,” Kroft said Wednesday post-practice. “There’s a lot of different components to each play, but of course there were routes where I had a one-and-one where I feel like I could beat that guy. There were sometimes I got it, and there were sometimes I didn’t. I just need to kind of get more consistent with it.”
Kroft doesn’t see it as anywhere near time to hit the panic button yet, though.
After the First Team All-AAC selection established himself with 43 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, there’s only so much attention to escape until sophomore wideouts Andre Patton and Ruhann Peele get healthy.
“I’m just going to kind of do what I’ve been doing, because it’s been working,” Kroft said. “Obviously I’m going to try to think of new creative ways to get open, but we’re pretty set in our technique on how we run certain routes versus certain coverages. It’s just last game it’s just kind of how it fell with how the defense was playing.”
Most important, the Cougars’ extra coverage on Kroft created openings for lesser-known Scarlet Knights to have an impact.
Sophomores Janarion Grant and John Tsimis combined for 88 yards on seven receptions, effectively complementing junior Leonte Carroo’s 151-yard, one-touchdown outburst.
Redshirt freshman tight end Matt Flanagan also got a taste of his first collegiate game experience, filling in for injured sophomore backup Nick Arcidiacono.
With Arcidiacono out again this week against Howard, Flanagan faces the challenge of supplying depth at a position where no one outside of he and Kroft possess game experience.
“Tyler’s been great about taking me under his wing and showing me everything that he knows, and [tight ends coach Anthony Campanile] has been really helpful,” Flanagan said. “I’ve been meeting with him and he’s showing me what I need to be able to do to succeed in this offense. It’s a responsibility [building depth], but I think everybody on the team’s got to be preparing as if they’re going to be the next starter.”
Wherever the yards are coming from, it matters little to Kroft as long as Rutgers stays in the win column.
“If those opportunities are coming because I’m getting a little more attention paid to me, then as long as we’re winning games, that’s what it’s all about,” Kroft said. “It’s a team game, it’s not an individual sport. So as long as I’m opening it up for other guys, I’m fine with that.”
True freshmen running backs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, who didn’t see action Thursday despite being listed on Rutgers’ depth chart at kick returner, are “ready to play,” said head coach Kyle Flood.
The first opportunities will likely come on special teams.
“I think that [running back] in particular is a deep position for us,” Flood said. “It’s hard to play three backs in a game, let alone four. Right now [junior] Paul [James] and [sophomore] Desmon [Peoples] are playing good football, so they’ll have to find their way onto the field first of all on special teams and then ultimately on offense.”
Flood welcomed Gregory Mackaronis, a Rutgers season-ticket holder of more than 50 years — the only person with that distinction — to practice today to speak to the Knights.
The tickets have been in the Mackaronis family since 1948, Flood said.
“It was great to have a chance to meet him and have him say a couple words to the team,” Flood said. “I think it’s a tremendous testament to the loyalty of our fan base and we’re excited to get back here and play in front of them this week at High Point Solutions Stadium.”
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