Mitchell brothers shake up receiving core in early spring practices
When Janarion Grant went down at the lip of the endzone against Iowa in September of last season, much of the receiving burden then fell on the shoulders of then-senior Andre Patton and two-sport athlete Jawuan Harris.
Harris, a true freshman, soundly stepped up in Grant’s absence, though with opposing coverage favoring him, the options for quarterback Giovanni Rescigno and company stood few and far between. Patton could only do so much, and the overexposure of the receiving core in part contributed to four scoreless games for the Rutgers football team, the first coming a week after Grant’s season-ending injury.
"We need some people to step up," said head coach Chris Ash. "They’ve gotta provide leadership, they’ve gotta provide playmaking ability, they’ve gotta learn the offense."
In come the Mitchell brothers — two transfers poised to not only fill in the glaring holes among the receiving core’s depth but head the line come the fall.
There is Ahmir — a redshirt freshman who has been with the team since last fall after transferring from Michigan as a true freshman.
"It was a tough fall for Ahmir, because he was sitting out, couldn’t practice, he was scout team," Ash said.
Ahmir will receive some meaningful action on the gridiron for the first time in months, and he'll do so alongside his brother Damon, a fifth-year senior off of four years at Arkansas.
With Harris and Grant left off of the spring offensive depth chart released by the team Thursday due to Harris' baseball commitments and Grant's limited activity on the field, both Mitchells stand firmly in the starting positions.
For Ahmir, his first full year on the Banks is an opportunity to reaffirm his transfer from a side that served the Scarlet Knights one of their worst losses in program history last season. Though he had been limited to "true freshman stuff" his first year, Ash reasons major improvements both physically and mentally as to why he has jumped out to the top of the receiving lineup.
"He has really matured, he’s really bought in — the thing I love about Ahmir right now is his competitive spirit," he said. "When you look at guys that are competing every single day, I don’t know if we have a guy out there that is competing more than Ahmir every single day."
That maturity, of course, is doubly expected out of a graduate transfer like Damon, whose four years in the SEC provide a different sort of mentality than Ash and the staff are used to seeing in Piscataway. After seeing extremely limited action on the field in his time at Arkansas — where he primarily played at running back — the Egg Harbor City native returns to his home state with his brother for his final season.
Damon's inclusion, Ash insists, is a lesson in leadership for the rest of the squad.
"He knows what it takes to go out and he’ll take care of his body. He’ll show up to practice and take great notes in meetings. He’s doing a great job providing leadership for that wide receiver group," Ash said.
It is a wide receiver group that, without Harris and Grant regularly in the mix this spring, only boasts one player with prior field experience for Rutgers, that being sophomore Dacoven Bailey, who is also listed as a starter on the depth chart. Bailey featured in all 12 games last season, starting in one.
Though of course the group is bound to be shaken up by the time fall rolls around, the Mitchell brothers, in only a few spring practices, have already infiltrated the receiving scene, giving Ash and offensive coordinator Jerry Kill much to work with, considering the lack of depth on that end after Grant's injury last year.
But being new means Damon and Ahmir have to be receptive to a whole new playstyle and system, putting them at a comparative disadvantage to even those who have yet to see a snap but have been with the team.
"It’s a completely new system for them and they’re learning every single day they show up," Ash said. "It is a critical time this spring to develop the depth of that unit."