Rutgers evaluates quarterback situation in recruitment, current roster
Of all positions on the depth chart for the Rutgers football team and head coach Chris Ash's first-year staff, the one gleaming opening that remains the biggest mystery is under center.
With the turnover that Ash brings and a new scheme on the way with offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer's power spread coming to the Banks, the one spot on the field that was unquestionably Chris Laviano's for the duration of the 2015 season is now up for discussion.
"Every spot is open. Everything is going to be a competition," Ash said. "We've sent this message already. If you're afraid to compete, you're not going to be welcome here at Rutgers — whether you're a current player, an incoming player, a recruit down the road. The program is going to be built on competition."
Ash was clear on that message, referring to the current signal-callers on the roster, but pointing to what was once a two-man competition between rising juniors Laviano and Hayden Rettig.
Regardless of the new direction being taken with a switch from the pro-style offense that the program has been accustomed to, despite six coordinators in the past six seasons before Mehringer's arrival, Ash remained firm on how he views the evaluation of the position moving into the spring.
"There are not going to be any starters anointed because of what they've done in the past, where they're from or what age they are," he said. "The guys better come in ready to compete, they better buy into what we're doing, buy into our culture, do the things we want them to do or it's not going to be the right place for them."
With that in mind, what might the people who pile into High Point Solutions Stadium see on Saturdays under a new-look unit overseen by a high-energy 28-year-old?
To Mehringer, the former Houston wide receivers coach who spent time at James Madison as the co-offensive coordinator in 2014 and a graduate assistant at Ohio State from 2012-13, there isn't an exact prototype to his multiple system.
"I think the ideal quarterback in the system, everyone is going to wonder if he is a dual-threat guy, a pro-style guy. I don't think that's necessarily important," he said. "There's no one system ever that has been the saving grace of football, whether it be at the professional level or college football level ... The ideal quarterback for us is going to be a guy that is extremely competitive, an intelligent guy that's going to come in with a relentless passion to win."
Since those comments from his introductory press conference roughly two weeks ago on Jan. 12, Mehringer and the Knights' staff have offered three 2016 quarterback prospects.
Oden received an in-home visit from Ash and Mehringer on Jan. 18, three days before he decommitted from Louisville. Scott decommitted from Syracuse on Jan. 17, two days before Mehringer paid him an in-home visit. Pigrome, who has been uncommitted, was the only one of the three not to receive a visit.
As far as the concern goes with dual-threats fitting Mehringer's offense, all three stack up as ideal candidates for a spread.
Past the three, the decommitment of Elite 11 quarterback Anthony Russo (Warminster, Pennsylvania) alludes to the idea that a signal-caller who can run it as good — if not better — than he can throw it, might be the best option.
But even if those characteristics fit into the blueprint of the offense, Mehringer doesn't see it as a make-or-break.
"Really, I think the intangibles of the position separate itself far from the measurables and the style of system that he fits in," he said. "Ideal quarterback-wise, extremely competitive and super intelligent."
As for the quartet of quarterbacks currently on the depth chart — Laviano, Rettig, rising sophomore Giovanni Rescigno and rising redshirt freshman Mike Dare — the competition is all for the taking as far as Mehringer is concerned.
"I've talked to all of the quarterbacks. You reach out to Chris, being the starter from this past year. Very good conversation with him on the phone. I talked about the expectations we have," Mehringer said. "The same thing with Hayden, the expectations we have for that position. When you address Hayden, I hope you didn't come in here to be the backup. As Coach Ash said, there are no starters, backups right now, it's open competition. All the way back down to even Gio and those guys."
While it remains to be seen who the Knights might pick up as National Signing Day approaches on Feb. 3, it's a given for the quarterback position to remain an unknown into the spring — and maybe even into training camp in August.
But regardless of who ends up on the depth chart as Rutgers sets its sights toward the 2016 season, Mehringer has one message in mind for whoever guns for the starting job.
"If you didn't come here to compete and win, your position or game for that matter, you don't really belong here," he said.