Wideouts embrace run blocking role
While a trio of physically imposing wide receivers for the Rutgers football team earn credit for extending run plays, one who stands at only 6-foot delivered arguably the most iconic run block of the season.
Junior Quron Pratt freed sophomore running back Jawan Jamison for an end zone-clearing 24-yard run Sept. 22 at Arkansas, extending a Scarlet Knights drive that ended with less than four minutes left.
“Quron came down and cracked him,” said senior wideout Mark Harrison yesterday. “And that’s a little guy, so that shows you it carries over. It doesn’t matter what size you are. You still have to play like you’re 6-foot-8.”
The Knights have recorded a 20-yard run in each game this season and a 40-yard play on the ground in three of them. Head coach Kyle Flood points to passes off run plays as an indicator in that success.
“They’ve had a big impact on our run game with their blocking and also with some of those passes,” he said of Rutgers’ wide receivers.
But the Knights’ wideouts work little on run blocking outside of 11-on-11 drills and prepare mostly against a scout-team defense during the week.
“As a unit, we all set that résumé of this is what you have to do,” Harrison said. “[If] you don’t block, you don’t play. It’s a unit thing we take pride in.”
The benefits from the Knights’ reinvigorated ground game continue to surface.
Harrison’s 14-yard touchdown reception against Connecticut came on a designed run, Flood said. Sophomore quarterback Gary Nova audibled at the line of scrimmage because of UConn’s off coverage, and Harrison used his frame to fight off a defender for the score.
It is part of a mutually beneficial relationship between run and pass.
“We know we’re not getting the ball, but we know things could flip,” said sophomore wideout Brandon Coleman. “We need Jamison to block for us and give Gary time. Things work out for themselves.”
At 6-foot-6, Coleman does not mind fighting for position at the line of scrimmage. It is an attitude the rest of Rutgers’ receiving corps shares — even trickling down to 5-foot-10 sophomore Miles Shuler, Coleman said.
“The stereotype of receivers and corners is that it’s just a pillow fight out there,” he said. “I like a little contact.”
Freshman kicker Kyle Federico did not practice for the second consecutive day yesterday, leaving his hopes of playing Saturday to a Friday evaluation.
The Knights brought in Joe Behnke, a senior walk-on, Flood said, who previously tried out with the team but did not stick. He joins a kicking competition that Flood said includes every specialist on the team.
“We’re excited to have him out there, and he did a nice job for us amongst everybody else,” Flood said of Behnke. “We’ve got a healthy competition going on, and I wouldn’t rule anybody out at this point.”
Following an evaluation of Federico with head athletic trainer David McCune, Flood will meet with his assistants to go over special teams strategies against Syracuse. Should Federico not practice this week, he will not be a part of them.
“Kyle is Plan A, and everybody else is Plan B,” Flood said. “I’m not sure I have the complete body of work [to make a decision yet].”
If Federico — 6-for-11 on field goals this season — plays, Flood will make a judgment on his range based on several factors, including wind.
Flood said he is concerned with the recent play of senior punter Justin Doerner, who is last in the Big East with 37.7 yards per punt. He recorded punts of 12 and 15 yards against UConn, while also landing a 54-yarder inside the 20-yard line.
“I really believe he’s going to get into groove here … and he’s going to start performing more like the punter we had last year,” Flood said. “Because he’s an older player with an established résumé, so to speak, I’m concerned about it. We’re coaching him through it, but I really feel like he’s going to come out of it.”
Doerner ranked fourth in the conference in punting last season and finished second with 24 punts inside the 20, earning All-Big East Second Team recognition.
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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