Depth issues continue to hamper Rutgers offense in spring camp with losses of Oden, Mitchell
Bad news comes in twos for the Rutgers football team it seems, as this last week has proved particularly negative for those hoping the Scarlet Knights would escape their rather haunting issues of depth that plagued them from September onward last season.
With the dismissal of reserve sophomore quarterback Tylin Oden on Tuesday — due to what head coach Chris Ash deemed a "violation of team rules" — and the torn ACL suffered by redshirt freshman wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell in a non-contact drill at last Saturday's practice, the Rutgers offense finds itself in a similar position as last fall.
Oden — who got substantial time on the field last season, though only completing one pass for two yards eight attempts — started the spring behind junior Giovanni Rescigno on the spring offensive depth chart, sharing the second spot with fifth-year senior Zach Allen until being let go from the program, leaving only Rescigno and Allen as the only two scholarship players under center at the moment.
Still, Ash contends, the team is not in the market for a graduate transfer despite its lack of depth at the position, citing the incoming freshman Jonathan Lewis as a contender for Oden's spot and perhaps more.
"We’re short right now with our depth," Ash said. "It is what it is. We’ve got two scholarship quarterbacks, we’ve got another one coming in Jonathan Lewis."
Mitchell's injury comes just days after being listed as a starter at his position on the depth chart alongside his brother, fifth-year senior Damon "Duwop" Mitchell and sophomore Dacoven Bailey, and his surgery is expected to come "relatively quickly," says Ash.
Of course, the unpredictability of ACL tear recovery spells a lot of question marks spelling the position progressing through the spring.
"Best case scenario probably is that we get him back sometime before Big Ten play starts or relatively around that time," Ash said. "Worst case scenario is he’ll be out for the year."
Compounding the issue is the limited activity of wide receivers Jawuan Harris and Janarion Grant throughout the spring, leaving the elder Mitchell and Bailey to shoulder much of the receiving burden through the spring.
But beyond them, Ash holds that the position is still "thin" and won't be at "full strength ... until the fall," when Harris and Grant reinsert themselves into the fold.
While Ash has more options than he can use at the moment at wide receiver, running back presents a different issue altogether.
A position that struggled mightily with holding onto the ball throughout all of last season, senior running backs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks have struggled in the early spring with the exact same problem.
"We’ve got too many balls on the ground for what we want in this program," Ash said. "The guys just have to understand the value of the ball and how important it is to our team success. It’s no secret, last year we had an issue holding onto the ball and it cost us some games."
That loomed large in last Saturday's scrimmage — the first of the spring for the Knights — as the defense exposed many of the issues on the offensive end, as Ash called it a "one-sided show."
"We played really fast on defense. We did create a lot of takeaways in our scrimmage, so I was really pleased with that," Ash said. "Offensively, it wasn’t a very good scrimmage because of what the defense did and how they played.".
The offense's struggles in a scrimmage, 11-on-11 atmosphere poses problems as spring camp carries on, but Ash called upon its response the following practice on Tuesday as a positive, considering the recent losses of Oden and Mitchell still looming large over the program.
"They bounced back and had a great Tuesday practice and really got after the defense," Ash said. "I like the team going back and forth like that."