Rutgers holds 1st spring practice of offseason
Ash see's a lot of strengths, but a lot of work still to be done
The Rutgers football team kicked off the first of 15 spring practices on Tuesday morning, in what will culminate in the annual Scarlet-White game on April 14 at High Point Solutions Stadium.
The team has a lot to work on this spring if it hopes to continue its way down the line of head coach Chris Ash’s four-year plan. At the moment, Ash believes that the Scarlet Knights are on course with his plan — currently at the very beginning of its third year.
“We came in really with a three or four-year plan, and I think we are right on pace for that — year one, it is what it is,” Ash said. “We were trying to build you know, a culture, set standards, fix some issues. Year two we wanted to improve, and I think we were able to do that. (Now with) year three, with so many guys coming back, hopefully we can take that next step and win a few more games.”
Rutgers held practice inside the Indoor Sports Bubble, where just a day prior members of the New York Giants, including quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Brandon Marshall, participated in some offseason practice.
Although they didn’t participate in any drills with the team, it certainly helps a young and raw group of guys — especially the newest members of the team — to see how professionals work and the mentality that they bring to practice, even during the offseason.
Ash stressed that although there were a lot of good things he saw on Tuesday, it was only the first practice, and that there is a lot to work on to get this team ready for September.
“It’s the first spring practice of 2018. We’re really pleased with what we saw out there today, a lot of energy, players were hungry to be coached. Obviously, I think we’re a lot cleaner going into year three then we would have been in the previous years … for day one, really pleased with where we are at, (but) we’ve got a lot a lot of work to do (over) the next five weeks here and 14 practices.”
The Knights had themselves quite the offseason, which included hiring four new coaches across the staff, introducing a 22-member recruiting class — 10 of which were mid-year enrollees and participated in the first practice — and saying goodbye to key graduating players, like defensive lineman Kemoko Turay, running back Gus Edwards and wide receiver Janarion Grant.
Installing new staff members and new players can be a tough task to handle, so starting practices seemingly a week early looks like a smart move on Ash’s part to get both sides of the ball accustomed to their new coaches, and vice versa.
“I really like our staff right now,” Ash said. “Last year, we lost some good players, we lost some coaches. We’ve replaced good players with good players, and we’ve replaced good coaches with some really good coaches. I really like our staff chemistry right now, I like the relationships our coaches have with each other and what they have with our players.”
Newly named offensive coordinator John McNulty has a large group of returning offensive weapons to work with during practice — specifically in his quarterback unit.
Rutgers returns the likes of sophomore Johnathan Lewis, junior Tom Flacco and fifth-year senior Giovanni Rescigno — the early offseason favorite to be the starter for the Scarlet Knights come September — among others.
“They all got reps today,” Ash said. “There’s no one, there’s no two, there’s a lot of guys that we need to work through — Coach McNulty needs to work through — to figure out who can operate and manage his system. They all got reps and they will for the first few practices until it kind of sorts itself out — it will soon, it won’t take long.”
With Edwards leaving the team, Rutgers is in desperate need of a leading man in the back field, and although the team could have looked at a guy who has already been on its depth chart, a newcomer may take the No. 1 spot this offseason.
Graduate student Jonathan Hilliman transferred over to the Banks from Boston College, stating how he’d like to return to his New Jersey roots and spend his final season of college football in Scarlet.
“It’s time to come home,” Hilliman said, according to NJ Advance Media in January when he first enrolled into Rutgers. “I’m needed and couldn’t be happier to help lead this team into postseason play.”
Last season with the Eagles, Hilliman posted some solid numbers, rushing for 638 yards on 167 attempts and 5 touchdowns, while also catching 24 passes for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns. But, the biggest thing that Hilliman may be bringing to the Knights is another veteran mind and body in the locker room.
Sophomore Raheem Blackshear and redshirt freshman Elijah Barnwell — who is coming off an ACL injury — are additional options at running back for Rutgers to spend time looking at this spring, and into the summer and training camp for the upcoming season.
“We’re gonna have a number of bodies in that room that, again, last spring we did not have, so overall I like the group … we’ve got some good play makers, and we’ve got some good depth,” Ash said.”