Modest gains highlight Jefferson’s stay

Knight notebook

<p>Sophomore running back Jawan Jamison will play Thursday against Louisville despite an ankle issue that surfaced Nov. 10 against Army.</p>

Sophomore running back Jawan Jamison will play Thursday against Louisville despite an ankle issue that surfaced Nov. 10 against Army.

D.C. Jefferson sees the potential in redshirt freshman Tyler Kroft, a physically developing tight end for the Rutgers football team.

“He’s just got to get better at little things, the same as any other tight end in the country at his age,” Jefferson said Sunday. “Every day is a process of getting better off your last mistake.”

Jefferson, a senior tight end, once dealt with much loftier expectations than his younger teammate.

Once an imposing 6-foot-6 high school quarterback from Winter Haven, Fla., he initially committed to LSU before reneging it in favor of the Scarlet Knights.

His frame — Jefferson is listed at 250 pounds — made him an ideal candidate at tight end once he changed positions in 2009 as a redshirt freshman. But through nearly four seasons, Jefferson gained little traction as a pass catcher.

His 18 receptions this season are a career high, and he is on pace to catch more passes this season than he did in the last two combined. He has caught only one touchdown, the first since a 2010 gadget play in which he caught a pass from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu against Florida International.

A Jefferson holding penalty Saturday at Pittsburgh negated a touchdown, although the Knights scored two plays later.

“Things didn’t go the way we planned,” Jefferson said. “They came out with a great game plan, and we didn’t execute ours to the fullest to come out with a victory. We’re moving forward.”

Forward thinking has always been linked with Jefferson.

He entered 2012 on the preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end, despite only 27 career catches.

Offensive coordinator Dave Brock’s pro-style system was supposed to signal a return to tight end production. But in recent history, Rutgers has received minor contributions from the position.

L.J. Smith, drafted in the NFL’s second round in 2003, averaged 32 receptions through three seasons. Clark Harris in 2006 was the last tight end to account for more than 300 yards in a season.

“We’re a pro-style offense with an emphasis on running the football to create one-on-ones in the passing game,” said head coach Kyle Flood yesterday. “But we’re going to attack on offense in every game. Unfortunately, if you don’t execute, it doesn’t look very good.”

Outside of the Knights’ two losses — in which they trailed by at most three scores — sophomore quarterback Gary Nova has averaged 21.5 pass attempts in the last six games.

It has meant a pinch on opportunities at tight end, which already faced a steep learning curve.

“I think I came a long way doing something I never did before,” Jefferson said. “I’m still not where I want to be.”

Flood will likely draw Thursday from his experiences as a Delaware assistant in 2003, when the Blue Hens won the FCS national championship.

The atmosphere — Flood says it is the Monday Night Football of the college level — against Louisville could be arguably the most heightened in program history, with a BCS bid at stake.

“We’re certainly not naïve to what the result of the game will dictate for either team,” Flood said. “It’s a big game. It’s the kind of game that you want to be in as a player and as a coach, and it’s the kind of game as a program that we hope to be in every year.”

Flood said he expects sophomore running back Jawan Jamison, hobbled by an ankle injury, to be available against the Cardinals.

Jamison has rushed a combined 13 times in the last two games since suffering a sprained ankle Nov. 10 against Army. He averaged nearly 24 carries in the previous nine games.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.

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