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Rutgers Football: Key Developments From First Scrimmage

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NCAA Football: Norfolk State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The first scrimmage of training camp took place yesterday as part of the open practice for fans. Conditions were fierce, as it was 97 degrees, but more than 1,000 fans were estimated in attendance per NJ Advance Media. That is a great turnout for a mid-August weekend in brutal conditions. For a full report with stats and other analysis from Keith Sargeant and Ryan Dunleavy of NJ Advance Media, click here and here and here.

With just three weeks until the season begins, the scrimmage was an important end to the first week of training camp. The team impressed the BTN crew on Friday, but it was important for them to play well in a game environment on Saturday. Of course, a mix of good and bad should be expected in excessive heat and in the team’s first game-like conditions of camp. Let’s examine some notable developments from the scrimmage.

Linebacker Depth

Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Jay Niemann indicated he was hoping to feel good about a two deep at the linebacker position entering the season. While Deonte Roberts, Trevor Morris, and Najee Clayton are projected to start, who will back them up seems to be a more muddled picture. Redshirt senior Kevin Marquez had a huge day playing on the second team, recovering a fumble and intercepting a Hayden Rettig pass and returning it 14 yards for a touchdown. Marquez has mostly seen action on special teams throughout his career, so yesterday was a big step for him in his final training camp. With three first time starters at linebacker this season, the more depth Niemann has to work with, the better.

Quarterback Play

No, I’m not talking about Chris Laviano falling down the depth chart. He threw a 24 yard touchdown to Vance Matthews in what Sargeant called a “perfect pass, hitting his receiver in stride, connecting through a tight window.” He also had a 55 yard pass to Carlton Agudosi. Zach Allen didn’t produce any big plays, but he and Laviano exclusively played with the first team. However, the quarterback who had the best performance yesterday was fourth string Gio Rescigno. He connected on a 71 yard touchdown pass to Jawuan Harris and then ran for a 36 yard touchdown, both playing with the second team offense against the second team defense. Considering Rettig threw the only interception of the scrimmage, it’s possible that Rescigno will leapfrog Rettig on the depth chart at some point soon.

Fumbles Were An Issue

Rutgers had three fumbles during yesterday’s scrimmage, two by receivers. Jawuan Harris caught that big touchdown by Rescigno, but fumbled later on. Agudosi fumbled on that 55 yard reception from Laviano. True freshman Trey Sneed, who has turned heads since his arrival and has a chance to play this season, also fumbled. Conditions were extremely hot during the scrimmage, but this development is certainly not one that head coach Chris Ash and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer will be pleased with.

Wrinkles In The Spread

Wide Receivers John Tsimis, Janarion Grant, and Jawuan Harris all had carries on offense yesterday. While Grant is expected to get the ball as much as possible this season, Harris is certainly an X factor for this offense. After catching the long touchdown and rushing with the football as well, he could end up being a big factor this season. Another potential boost for the offense this season is the return of Tsimis. After missing most of last season due to injury, he could fit perfectly in the slot position this season and be a reliable short yardage, possession receiver within the spread offense.

Notable Players Who Sat Out

During the scrimmage, key players who did not play were Darius Hamilton, Trevor Morris, Robert Martin, and Kemoko Turay. Hamilton and Morris wore green jerseys for players with injuries, but they have been full participants in practice this week and likely sat out as a precaution. Martin appears to have the starting running back spot locked up and was likely kept out as a precaution. He was not wearing a green jersey, so there is no injury issue with him. As for Turay, he is still working back from his surgery in the winter and has not been a full participant this past week of camp. Hopefully he makes progress the next two weeks, in hopes of breaking into the two deep depth chart and playing in the opener against #18 Washington on September 3rd.