Rutgers gears up for spring game amid transition and calls of depth issues
With 13 practices in the books for the Rutgers football team, really one thing truly separates the Scarlet Knights from summer training camp. No mass observations will come out of the final few practices, as the combined prospects of injury conservations and a new roster come June spell a soft, steady closing weeks to spring camp.
Saturday is the spring game, and head coach Chris Ash's greatest aim heading into the annual affair is to protect the bodies on his depth chart while catching sustained attention and support from Rutgers students and the energy of incoming Knights ready to take the field once the door closes on spring.
As Rutgers eases into that transition, it still retains many of the traditions of last year's spring game.
The team will run its ones versus its twos on Saturday, much like last year, with the starters sporting red jerseys and those second-in-line donning the white.
"We really want our one offense and one defense to work together. Those are the 11 players that have been practicing," Ash said. "We want them to continue to stay together, and just work on that chemistry and all the things that go into it."
The ones and twos will square off at a thud tempo, as Ash maintains that injury is far too much of a risk to allow tackling.
"The number one thing we need to get out of the spring game is that we come out of it fresh and healthy," he said. "We want to see our guys obviously do a great job in the stadium executing their job but we need to make sure we come out healthy."
This, of course, comes on the heels of a torn ACL to fifth-year senior quarterback Zach Allen. The backup's absence means junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno — whose main competition for the starting spot now rests on incoming freshman Johnathan Lewis — will be pitted against walk-on fifth-year senior quarterback Troy Anthony for Saturday's spring game.
But lack of depth does not end at the quarterback position, as the wide receiver unit has received much of the attention throughout spring camp, especially with the initial excitement surrounding the Mitchell brothers and the progress of fifth-year senior Janarion Grant in recovery.
A torn ACL to redshirt freshman Ahmir Mitchell and a baseball season to take care of for sophomore Jawuan Harris, though, means the Rutgers faithful will do without two prospective starters in the fold for the spring game Saturday.
"We are hurt or limited in our overall development because of the wide receiver group," Ash said. "We knew it was going to be a transition period from all of the guys that we lost last year to new guys that we'll have here on campus now and in the fall."
Whether the remaining healthy wideouts on the roster — players like fifth-year senior Damon Mitchell and sophomore Dacoven Bailey among others — will put on red or white come Saturday remains to be seen.
But two men certain in their allegiance this weekend are alumni Duron Harmon and Mohamed Sanu, who will return to High Point Solutions Stadium Saturday to act as honorary coaches for Team White and Team Red, respectively. Harmon will join cornerbacks coach Henry Baker and Sanu with running backs coach Lester Erb.
Harmon, fresh off of a Super Bowl win over the Falcons, will certainly hope he can repeat the result from the sidelines this Saturday, but Ash, amid the atmosphere surrounding the spring game, is not too concerned about how the game plays out.
No injuries, of course, but the game serves as more of a formality if anything, primarily a way for the program to reach out to fans and students alike to drum up excitement for the season ahead.
His concern is what follows and what has persisted throughout spring. To continue into the summer and eventually the fall with higher prospects than last season and breed life into a wounded program.
Sure, he wants nice weather and a great crowd for Saturday. But there's a lot more than meets the eye. It's about a year from now, a year after that and then some.
"Hopefully it’s a beautiful day out and a lot of people come and create a great environment for the recruits to see," he said. "(But) more excited about getting on the road and getting the evaluation process going. We’ve had a ton of recruits here on campus throughout the spring practice period, and that’s really what we want."
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