Janarion Grant, Rutgers wide receivers slowly finding their rhythm
Anyone who watched the train wreck that was the Rutgers offense in 2016 noticed a glaring lack of wide receivers.
After star receiver Janarion Grant went down with an achilles injury in the fourth game of the season against Iowa, there was basically no one for the quarterbacks to throw to.
When one looks at games five through 12 last year to the start of 2017, the wide-outs on the field are completely different.
Gone are the likes of Andre Patton, Carlton Agudosi and John Tsimis. Enter Grant, graduate-transfer Damon Mitchell, Dacoven Bailey and true freshmen Bo Melton, Everett Wormley and Hunter Hayek.
Wide receivers coach Jafar Williams, who was a part of the 2016 team, is ecstatic with the depth he has and was very blunt when asked if felt the group lost anything when the "backups" came into the game.
"Absolutely not," he said. "We feel (we) are at a level where we can put a guy in the game and not lose (anything) and that helps us in the fourth quarter."
That was very evident last week against Eastern Michigan, as the offense only seemed to have an identity late in the game, when it moved the ball with ease on its last two drives.
Grant, who had a quiet game up to that point, played like the difference maker everyone knows he is, acting as a catalyst for an offense that seemed lost for most of the game.
But he wants more than that. Grant said after practice on Tuesday he wants to be that guy every quarter of every game.
"I'm trying to do that each and every quarter so I get the ball in my hands," he said.
Williams was no stranger to that late spark either, and in hindsight, he was disappointed that his group didn't show up for the first three quarters of what wound up being a 16-13 upset loss.
He made it clear that the receivers are talented enough to make plays, but need to put forth the proper amount of work each and every week, no matter the opponent.
"I think inconsistent," he said, of their performance against the Eagles. "It's not a matter of talent, it's just execution. One of the things we talked about is just having the same approach no matter who you're playing."
After a Tuesday practice that he said was probably the best the team has had all year, Williams spoke highly of the receivers' natural ability and the improvements they've made from not just a year ago, but from week to week.
In the season opener against then-No. 8 Washington, quarterback Kyle Bolin was very conservative and never made any deep passes with considerable air yards under the ball.
Last Saturday, it was clear that offensive coordinator Jerry Kill felt more comfortable stretching the field with the passing game, and called numerous deep pass plays.
Bolin didn't always connect with his receivers, but he did connect with Grant on a 40-yard bomb, showcasing Grant's ability as a receiver and getting behind the defense.
"We're night and day from where we were last year in being able to get down the field and get off a press," Williams said. "At the same time, the timing of that is important. The quarterback throwing the ball at a certain depth down the field, the receiver making sure he's digging for 20 yards before he looks for the ball, all of those things matter."
Grant believes that something is brewing with his own personal game, perhaps in the deep passing game, as he looked healthier and faster in the second game of the season.
He said he's waiting his turn and being patient, but a player with Grant's electricity, it's hard not imagining a big play every single time he touches the ball.
"I know something is gonna come eventually. (We have) 10 more games left, I know something’s gonna break out," he said.