Rutgers football had their seventh practice of the spring today and head coach Chris Ash addressed the media afterwards. He was upbeat and positive regarding the way the spring has gone so far.
Ash: We're probably further ahead after 7 practices than what we had planned. Impressed by the way they have picked things up. #RFootball— Ryan Dunleavy (@rydunleavy) April 7, 2016
Ash was speaking in regards to being ahead of schedule with the installation of things on both sides of the ball. In regards to the offense, Ash said they have installed more formations, plays, and pass concepts than he expected at this point. For the defense, Ash said they have installed more pressure sets than expected. He gave credit to the players, stating many of them have put in the extra work on their own with film study and learning the playbook. It's safe to say that Ash has created a culture of competition that has motivated many players on this team. Ash also said he was glad to see some personality finally start to show in today's practice, with both units showing emotion at times.
In terms of the depth chart, Ash commented that it is starting to shake out and that both the offensive and defensive lines have the most separation by position so far. This makes sense considering both lines are two of the most experienced position groups on the team. Defensive line coach Shane Burham spoke in detail after Tuesday's practice about how Darius Hamilton, Sebastian Joseph, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, and Quanzell Lambert have asserted themselves within that position group. All are seniors except for Joseph, who is a redshirt junior. It is vital to the success of this team that the veteran leaders assert themselves, both by their individual performances, as well being vocal in their buying in with the new coaching staff.
As for the quarterback battle, Ash was candid in stating that last year's starter, Chris Laviano, is ahead at the moment.
Ash says Laviano has an edge in the QB competition right now. Says Laviano has earned a few more reps with the first team.— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) April 7, 2016
Ash said there isn't a big separation in the QB competition, however.— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) April 7, 2016
Ash cited Laviano being consistent with ball security as a main reason why he has gotten more reps than the other quarterbacks. He went into detail here:
"He understands the offense," Ash said. "He has protected the football. Not as good as we want to, but he's probably protected it better than the other quarterbacks. When I say that, he's made better decisions. I think the overall understanding of what we're trying to do, how to get the call from the sideline, how to get guys lined up, how to call the play out on the field, if it's not right get the picture right, if somebody is aligned wrong he understands how to get them aligned right."
"It's slowing down for him a little bit, probably a little more so than the other ones," Ash said. "Again, there is not a big separation but he is probably a few steps ahead of the other guys."
There is still a lot of football to be played in practice before Ash names a starting quarterback. For all the reasons Ash cited, it would be disappointing if Laviano was not ahead at this point, based on his experience as the starter last season. As the players become more familiar with the offense, the playing field should level out. At that point, the quarterback who demonstrates the most potential to execute the offense at the highest level possible will determine the winner. It very well could be Laviano, but it should not be considered a foregone conclusion.
Ash reiterated that the tempo and practice habits of the football team have been good, but the execution must improve during the second half of the spring. Access has been limited to the media in the spring, but the Rutgers football twitter account shared this highlight of athletic wide receiver Carlton Agudosi at practice today.
Ash has made a point to build relationships with other coaches within the Rutgers athletic department. Newly hired Rutgers basketball coach Steve Pikiell stated Ash was the first to call and congratulate him. Today, Ash invited Rutgers wrestling coach Scott Goodale to address the team at practice. Keith Sargeant's article here goes into more detail about what he said to the team, but here is a telling comment from Goodale on his view of the program:
"I go back nine years ago, we're in a similar situation (to the football program today),'' Goodale said. "(Ash is) trying to do what I tried to do, and I'm still trying to do. It's build a culture and build an atmosphere where winning is really, really important. You can see that's where he's at.
"But I had all eyes (of the players) really on me. You could tell there's a definite change around here. Those guys are tuned in and focused, you could tell it's starting. But it's spring ball for them, and it's gotta carry over day in and day out. In the dog days of June and July, you gotta have that same type of intensity.''
Goodale is a tremendous coach and has had great success building the Rutgers wrestling program. His observations regarding the changes around the football program are encouraging.
There are now seven practices remaining before the final session takes place, which is the spring game. It is open to the public and will kickoff at 7:30 pm on April 23rd at High Point Solutions Stadium. The game will also be shown live on the Big Ten Network. Ash gave a little insight today on the format. The next spring practice is this coming Saturday and the team will hold it's second scrimmage then.
Ash: We're going to have a 4Q spring game together. All of 1s will work together. #RFootball— Ryan Dunleavy (@rydunleavy) April 7, 2016