Rescigno, Turay, Austin among spring standouts for Chris Ash
Ten days out from the spring game, practice number 10 — and the second from inside High Point Solutions Stadium — wrapped up, and with less than half of the spring practice period to go, the coaching staff's observations have grown less anecdotal as the days pass.
For head coach Chris Ash, there are a handful of players and units that he figures stand out from the rest of the Rutgers football team.
As Ash notes, this time of spring bares incredible importance for the team's outlook heading into summer training camp, the time where him and the other coaches need to "push them mentally and physically" in order to sort out the ones from the twos even further.
Some, though, have far exceeded any discussion regarding their roles on the team. Of the Scarlet Knights seeing drill after drill and snap after snap at practices and live scrimmages throughout the first 10 practices, only a few can say they've particularly caught the eye of Ash.
As all of football goes, it starts with the quarterback.
"He’s improved his overall knowledge of the offense and knowledge of defensive identification," Ash said on junior Giovanni Rescigno after practice Thursday. "He’s provided tremendous leadership for not only that unit but the offense."
The "clear-cut number one" at the position through 10 practices, Rescigno emerges from a season where he usurped now-San Diego State quarterback Chris Laviano at the starting position, despite having troubles of his own, throwing as many touchdowns as he did interceptions, nabbing five apiece.
"Fundamentally, he’s a lot better right now. His drops, his ball handling, his run reads, all that stuff is a lot better right now," Ash said.
To the sides of Ash are tackles Tariq Cole and Kamaal Seymour, who Ash also notes have made "huge strides" since this time last year and even since last fall. This comes to reason especially since Seymour had only made the switch to offensive line from defense the summer before last season.
It's a defense that Ash considers far and away the most impressive of the three collective units through 10 practices. Since the first live scrimmage — one in which Ash held the defense controlled — the defense has been a collectively stable set positions for the Scarlet Knights, especially with the injuries and roster moves that have come to define the offensive end throughout the early spring.
Specifically, though, it's the secondary that has most impressed Ash so far.
"Our corners, Isaiah (Wharton) and Bless(aun) Austin, have had a great spring," he said. "Last spring at this time — doing some of the new things that we asked them to do — wasn’t such a pretty spring. But they’re playing and practicing at a really high level right now."
Junior cornerback Austin finished second in the Big Ten in pass breakups last season with 14, and Ash attributed this not only to his length but his mentality on the field.
"He’s very confident in himself, and he’s got a short memory and doesn’t let negative things affect him, especially right now with the way he’s playing," Ash said.
Contending that junior middle linebacker Deonte Roberts has been the "most improved" on the team and that he has also been impressed with junior free safety Saquon Hampton's play throughout the spring.
Of course, whatever Ash's feelings are now may change by the time training camp rolls around or even sooner. With the bulk of the year still separating Rutgers from meaningful action at High Point Solutions Stadium, any observations made by Ash and his staff, though not purely anecdotal, can still be classed under the oft-maligned "too early to tell" folder.
For now, much of Ash's attention is squared on the spring game on April 22. Whatever form that game will take — and Ash and his staff are still not sure how the red versus white scrimmage will play out — he is confident his team, especially those he has called out as particularly impressive throughout the season, are cued in.
"They’re ready for the spring game and see the light at the end of the tunnel," Ash said.
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