Ash assesses Rutgers in honest fashion
The sun shone bright and the wind breezed lightly for the first time this spring Thursday morning, allowing the Rutgers football team to take its 10th meeting of spring practice outside to the F3 practice field.
It marked the first time the Scarlet Knights have practiced outside of the confines of the Bubble since winter workouts in January.
“It actually ended up being a really nice morning. First opportunity to get outside, I think our players had some good energy,” said head coach Chris Ash. “Really excited to get have a change of scenery, have a nice day out, sunny and to be in a different element. It was good.”
Ash was as comfortable on the podium during his weekly press conference as he was with the weather outside, answering questions on position battles in brutally honest fashion.
A week after declaring junior quarterback Chris Laviano had an edge in the quarterback competition, Ash said the Glen Head, New York, native lost his lead after not performing well in last Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage.
He conceded that junior Hayden Rettig and sophomore Giovanni Rescigno also had poor performances on Saturday, lacking the consistency he demands from the nucleus of his offense.
“It’s good days, it’s bad days right now with all those quarterbacks,” Ash said. “Again, we thought we were hopefully going in a little bit of a direction where one guy was separating himself a little bit but had some setbacks, and the other guys had some good days too, so it’s lack of consistency, it’s lack of protecting the football and making the right decisions that really is keeping anybody from separating from the others and being a clear cut leader.”
The first-year head coach was just as blunt when asked about the competition at middle linebacker, one of the three sections of the position group he and defensive coordinator Jay Niemann are tasked with replacing after last year’s starters left the Banks.
Sophomore Deonte Roberts has taken reps at middle linebacker for the past couple of practices, the latest given the opportunity at a position where the requirements have yet to be met.
“I’ll be honest with you, I see a mess at middle linebacker,” Ash said. “We tried a lot of different guys. ... Really trying to find a guy in there that’s — one, he’s a leader, he could get things right, he’s a tough guy, he can execute the calls, he works extremely hard and he’s a steady force when things aren’t going the right way … hopefully somebody will step up and be the right guy.”
The Knights are also tasked with replacing starting placekicker Kyle Federico, but they’ve been limited with just two kickers in junior David Bonagura and sophomore walk-on Michael Cintron being healthy.
Ash left the possibility of bringing in a graduate transfer in any position of need open, but clarified that while it may be the easy solution in solution, it isn’t necessarily the best option for the long-term future of the program.
Pleased with where the team is schematically on special teams, Ash still isn’t satisfied with the level of execution he’s seen.
“We need more competition, we need to get some guys back for the fall practice,” Ash said. “We’re inconsistent with our kickers, our snappers ... kind of pleased where we’re at schematically, but just the execution of snaps and kicks are not anywhere near where we need to be.”
Many changes have been made since Ash arrived in Piscataway, but none received as much backlash as his decision to eliminate the traditional awards handed out at the end of spring practice.
The Frank R. Burns Award for mental and physical toughness during spring football and the Douglas A. Smith and Mark Mills Second Effort Awards for the defensive and offensive players, respectively, who have shown the most improvement in the spring are the three awards being scrapped this season.
Continuing the theme of honesty, Ash said he “couldn’t even begin to tell” who would earn the awards for most improved on either side of the ball during the spring if they were to be handed out.
“We’re nowhere near ready to give anybody an award for anything,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants to get a fake award just because of something that’s been going on. Do I want to respect traditions of the past at Rutgers? Absolutely, but again, if it’s not what fits me or fits what I want to do moving forward, than we’re gonna have a discussion on whether it’s worth doing or not and right now, I don’t feel it’s the right time to do that.”
While Ash said the awards may make a return next spring, he continues to wipe the slate left by former head coach Greg Schiano and his successor Kyle Flood clean as he builds the program in his vision.
“There’s a lot of changes that have been going on here,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that have been traditional here at Rutgers. It’s a new era, and I’m going to do things the way I think they need to be done or I want them to be done ... I could apologize for it, but I’m not. It’s just the way I wanna do things in the program.”