Today was the first session of spring practice for Rutgers football. It also marked the first practice under new coach Chris Ash and his staff. In Ash's address of the media after practice, a few philosophical changes were apparent from the previous coaching regime.
Ash was asked why the players had a black stripe down the center of their helmets. He explained that it was a symbol to emphasize that each player needs to work and progress to a certain level before becoming "game ready". Once each positional coach feels a player is ready, they will have a "coming of age" type ceremony to remove the black stripe. Ash said they are referring to it as a player being "knighted". It's something simple yet powerful, and emphasizes the responsibility each player has to earn their way on the field during a game. Ash said players know they will not play in a game until the stripe is removed and that there is no timetable for anyone. Calling this process being "knighted" might seem cliche and corny to some, but I absolutely love it. It works on multiple levels and just adds to the buy in players must make to play for Ash and his staff.
There is now a banner hanging from the practice bubble with "The Hunt" written in all caps. Ash explained that Rutgers is chasing every other Big Ten team and the banner is there to remind players of that task every day. He said this is the team motto for now and that players need to be on "the hunt" constantly, even before and after taking part in official team activities. Ash mentioned the limited practice time they have and each player needs to keep their mission in mind, so they are always working towards it when they are on their own as well.
New banner hanging in the practice bubble. OSU has had "The Chase" and "The Grind" in recent years pic.twitter.com/hrrCt4cpO2— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) March 24, 2016
No Injury Report
Ash was asked about injuries and he explained his policy was not to discuss them. He told the media they can watch practice and see for themselves who is practicing and participating in various drills. There are no injury reports required during spring practice, like they are during the regular season. Ash was asked specifically about Darius Hamilton and what the plan for him was this spring. Ash said that Darius is mature and it is up to him to let them know what he can and cannot do, that he knows his body better than anyone.
Ash was asked the most about the quarterback situation and he reiterated it is an open competition like every other positional group. He did refer to the group as three, so that would mean Ash is only considering Chris Laviano, Hayden Rettig, and Giovanni Rescigno for now. He did admit that Laviano probably has an advantage from playing the most of the three previously, but that the results of last season would have no bearing on who they decide to start at quarterback moving forward. Ash was asked about his philosophy regarding sticking with one starter and he stated whatever gives the team the best chance to win is what he will do. If that means playing two quarterbacks during games then he will, but did say that the most desired outcome is for one player to stand above the rest. He said the time frame was open in determining when the starter will be named.
Ash said #RFootball could have a QB by end of spring if one emerges. Not opposed to playing 2 if that's what's best.— Ryan Dunleavy (@rydunleavy) March 24, 2016
Ash didn't address many players specifically, but did speak positively about Najee Clayton and his physical development. He stated Clayton moving to linebacker was done because he has a chance to get on the field faster and be part of the "best 11". Ash also complimented Julian Pinnix-Odrick for his leadership, work in the weight room, and that he has changed his body. JPO has moved to the outside on the line, but Ash indicated he will most likely move inside and out throughout next season.
Overall, it is fun to know that the team is finally back on the field and playing for this new coaching staff. Hope is alive and well for the Rutgers football program. Ash ended the presser discussing the #10strong motto as a goal, stating that if the ten position groups can all play at their maximum level, this team has a chance to be successful. The work they put in and progress that this team makes in the next month will go a long way towards the 2016 season. After day one of practice, it is obvious how much thought Ash has put into every aspect of this team's development. We will have updates the entire month of practice, culminating with the spring game on Saturday, April 23rd. The Hunt is officially on!