How this Rutgers tight end is adjusting to Big Ten schemes from PAC 12
Transferring into the Big Ten, a conference that boasts the most-ranked teams (seven) in this season's inaugural AP Top 25 Poll, can be intimidating. Especially when a loaded schedule competing against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State is a year-long commitment.
When redshirt freshman tight end Matt Alaimo inserted his name into the transfer portal following his redshirt season at UCLA, the Paramus, New Jersey native knew where he wanted to be: Home.
Alaimo arrived back in the Garden State this past January with playbook knowledge similar to offensive coordinator John McNulty's schemes for the Rutgers football team.
At UCLA, second-year head coach Chip Kelly brought with him his famous spread offense after serving as the head coach of an Oregon team that captured Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl championships in 2011 and 2012. A fast, no-huddle approach to the offense served Kelly well in his first season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, leading the former 4-12 team to an NFC East Title in 2013.
Practicing in this spread offense at UCLA allowed Alaimo to familiarize himself with a fast-moving type of offense, where the tight ends are sometimes tasked with blocking the edge of the offensive line.
Alaimo has had the spring and the summer to grow accustomed to the Scarlet Knights' offense. With two quarterbacks — graduate student McLane Carter and sophomore Artur Sitkowski — splitting the first team reps, the former Bruin has seen how both handle the spread offense.
Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that UCLA and Rutgers' offenses are, in fact, similar.
"It's not really that much different," Alaimo said. "It's a lot of two-tights, two-tight personnels. A lot of spread."
Two tights meaning that in select offensive packages, multiple tight ends are trusted to help the offensive line with blocking and oftentimes, acting as receivers.
Last season, head coach Chris Ash and McNulty decided to shift sophomore tight end Jonathan Lewis from quarterback to the position. The 6-foot-3-inch 249-pound Lewis saw time at the position in three games last season (all against Big Ten opponents).
In training camp, Alaimo has gotten reps with the different offenses, as well as with the special team's punting unit. If he makes his Knights debut against UMass this Friday, it would likely be with this unit.
The previous Thursday, Rutgers ran special teams drills at SHI Stadium, including punt returns, of which Alaimo was an active participant in.
Lining up against the the Knights' defensive linemen proved to be an opportunity of growth for Alaimo. His blocks were crisp and hands were active, which served as a testament to the workout regiments that he has used this year.
Alaimo was listed at 220 pounds on the UCLA Athletics website for the 2018 season. Since then, the tight end checks in at 237 pounds for this upcoming season.
Alaimo understands that switching his workout routine to adapt to the Big Ten — a landscape whose defensive alumni include former Wisconsin standout and current Houston Texan J. J. Watt and former Ohio State end and current Los Angeles Charger Joey Bosa — is essential to blocking for his quarterback.
"Playing in the Big Ten now, defensive ends are a lot bigger," Alaimo said. "I feel like I put on a lot more weight. I'm about 25 pounds heavier. I feel like I'm in a better position to block these guys."