Veteran increases position production
D.C. Jefferson went 29 games in between his first and second touchdowns for the Rutgers football team, starting the majority of them at tight end. But after two offensive coordinators left Piscataway in as many years, first-year play-caller Dave Brock might offer a solution.
“It feels good. I felt it was a long time coming,” Jefferson said yesterday. “We finally got an opportunity to get more balls and execute, and we’re doing it. We’ve got great coaching from [position] coach [Darnell] Dinkins and Coach Brock helping us out, getting everything right.”
Jefferson is the latest of three tight ends to catch a touchdown this season for the Scarlet Knights, the first time the feat occurred since 2004.
It is a far cry from the position culture in 2009, when Jefferson, a redshirt freshman, converted to tight end from quarterback and still started 10 games. He never once positioned himself on the line of scrimmage at Winter Haven (Fla.) High School.
“Everything I was learning was on the fly,” Jefferson said. “[Sophomore] Paul [Carrezola] and [senior] Beau [Bachety], they kind of naturally had it. They did it in high school. Now I think we’ve come a long way.”
The Knights receiving corps talks at length about the trickle-down effect of former wide receiver Mohamed Sanu’s absence. It earns more looks, it says, becomes more dynamic and keeps defenses honest.
Under Brock, production from the tight end position has added to the argument.
“When you have success, it does something to your mind,” said senior wideout Tim Wright. “If a guy was out there and wasn’t really getting the ball … people could get discouraged.”
The numbers at tight end have improved in moderation.
Jefferson’s 13 catches through seven games this season are nearly half of his career total, Carrezola’s one catch went for a touchdown and redshirt freshman Tyler Kroft is on pace to catch more passes than Jefferson and Carrezola combined in their first seasons.
But the production also compensates for the loss of sophomore fullback Michael Burton, who is out for the year with a leg injury, said head coach Kyle Flood.
“[It is] the first time I’ve had that experience here,” Flood said of using three tight ends. “It would be a luxury if Michael Burton was still playing. … Those guys need to be contributors every week because in some ways, they’re taking over Michael’s role at the fullback spot.”
Like Jefferson’s first three seasons, the adjustment to tight end is ongoing.
Dinkins, who played eight seasons in the NFL, gives Jefferson a benchmark at the position. Wright sees Jefferson begin to use his 6-foot-6 frame to his advantage and show mental growth, among other adjustments.
“Right now, it’s pretty much me perfecting it,” Jefferson said. “By now I’ve seen every single look, every single situation. It’s just me focusing in.”
Flood credits the Knights’ consistent emotion as a factor in their success blitzing, despite other teams’ knowledge of Rutgers’ aggressive tendencies.
“I don’t know if there are many surprises at this level of football with the amount of film that is out there,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s really not too much of a difference from what you see on game day to what you see on film.”
But Flood noticed opponents’ tweaks on offense against defensive coordinator Robb Smith’s high pressure. He said the Knights’ low sack numbers earlier in the season could be the product of more three-step drops and quicker releases from quarterbacks.
Four of Rutgers’ 13 sacks this season came in its last two games, including a strip-sack from junior defensive tackle Jamil Merrell that resulted in a touchdown.
“You can’t play football at a high level without a tremendous degree of emotion,” Flood said. “The scheme is good and we have a very sound scheme, but it’s talented players playing with great emotion.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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