Janarion Grant does it all for Rutgers offense
For the past two football seasons on the Banks, Leonte Carroo was the Scarlet Knights' go-to weapon on offense.
In 2014 the crisp route-running receiver accounted for over 36 percent of the team's receiving yards with 1,086 and over half of the Knights' touchdown catches with 10. Despite playing just 8 games as a senior last season, Carroo still led Rutgers in receptions (39), yards (809) and touchdowns (10).
Carroo's departure from Piscataway — and subsequent third-round selection of the Miami Dolphins in April's NFL Draft— stripped the Knights of a player that they could build an offensive game plan around, leaving first-year head football coach Chris Ash and his staff with the task of finding a player with the kind of lethal playmaking ability to excel in their hurry-up, spread offense.
Enter Janarion Grant.
The first time Janarion Grant touched the ball at the collegiate level was on a kickoff he returned 100 yards to the house. That emphatic burst onto the scene in his first game as a true freshman was just a sneak preview into what Grant would accomplish on special teams over the following three seasons.
Before the 2016 season had even begun Grant already stood alone as Rutgers' All-Time Kickoff Return Yardage leader with 2,411 yards and had six total return touchdowns to go with it. For the past two seasons, he was named to First Team All-Big Ten as a returner by Phil Steele.
But in what will be his final season donning the scarlet and white, Grant and the Knights' coaching staff are out to show that speedy returner can translate his game-altering skills on the return team to the offensive side of the ball.
Rutgers made no secret about its plans from early on to heavily feature Grant in its uptempo offense this season. He got 13 touches — 11 through the air and two on the ground — in a variety of ways during the Scarlet-White game in April.
A heavy dosage of Grant in the offensive game plan carried over from the spring through training camp and into the Knights' season-opening 48-13 loss to No. 14 Washington. Grant piled up 84 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches on offense, which is already more than a third of the total touches he received on offense last year.
"It feels great. It’s like the bigger and better role," Grant said. "It’s working on what I can do just exposing me to new things and new ideas, and that’s gonna open up a lot this year."
The idea is simple for Rutgers — get Janarion Grant the ball in space where he can use his speed and elusiveness to make a big play.
But while the idea may not be intricate, figuring out a way to execute it certainly is. Opposing defenses are more than aware that Grant is far and away the most dangerous weapon the Knights have to offer and will be keying in on him in their game plan.
This much was evident in the opener against Washington when — other than a 29-yard reception — Grant was mostly contained by the Husky defense.
"I don't think we executed great against Washington," said junior quarterback Chris Laviano on how to get Grant the ball more in space. "I think as we continue to do that, continue to stay with the plan, we'll be fine with getting him the ball in space."
To combat the opposition trying to take away Rutgers' No. 1 option, the Knights have to be creative in the ways in which they get Grant the ball to keep the defense off balance. In addition to Grant being moved all around the field on touches in the opener, Rutgers rolled out a new look involving him late in the fourth quarter.
With Laviano lined up at receiver, Grant took his place in the shotgun alongside senior running back Justin Goodwin in a wildcat formation. Grant took the snap from the Washington 10-yard line and dropped back like he was going to pass, but then swiftly darted upfield and followed his blockers into the end zone for the Knights only touchdown of the day.
"To be honest with you, that was the first time I've personally been involved in an in-depth wildcat-type package and Janarion did a nice job with it," said offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. "I think there's things we can expand with it, whether that be formationally or scheme-wise. And maybe it's not all Janarion all the time. Janarion was very effective and we had the right formation and the right scheme for what Washington threw at us, but I think it will change week-to-week to make sure we have the same numbers advantage that we had in the Washington game."
While running the wildcat at Rutgers is new to Janarion Grant, he is quite familiar with the package itself from his high school days. He said he feels confident quarterbacking the wildcat and enjoys it because it gives him the ability to take his time and read the defense before making a play with the ball.
The Knights breaking out the wildcat shows the offensive staff is doing whatever it can to get Janarion Grant the ball in space to maximize his potential to make plays. Through just one game Grant has taken handoffs on jet sweeps, caught passes on bubble screens, been sent out on deep routes and returned kicks and punts.
And soon, Rutgers' do-all receiver might be even passing the ball.
"I’m not sure yet I ain’t really test it out yet," Grant said on how far he can throw the ball. "It’s coming soon just be waiting."