It was a much more positive press room when Head Coach Chris Ash kicked off Week 2 at Rutgers yesterday. To begin, he gave a couple of shout-outs, one anticipated, one not so much.
As he stated, “He's [Grant] been an outstanding kickoff return guy and even punt return, although he hasn't had a lot of opportunities. He's fielded a lot of punts, but he's been an outstanding returner for us in the first two weeks. He's had a tradition of doing that here throughout his career, and excited for him to be able to receive that honor.”
However, he also noted a name not known much beyond the team, and that is walk-on DB Larry Stevens. Coach was obviously enthused by the freshman’s temperament and work ethic as he said, “Larry is a guy not a lot of people know about...We can't get enough guys like Larry Stevens. The guy is tough. He plays with relentless strain. Doesn't say anything at all. He'll knock people down, get knocked down, he gets back up, goes to the sideline and asks for his next mission. We'd love to have a team full of guys like Larry Stevens.” It sounds like Larry is successfully working toward getting his full scholarship at Rutgers.
On to injuries, Larry got his opportunity due to the absence of Saquon Hampton, who will be out for several weeks due to an injury sustained against Howard. That was the only one mentioned specifically by the coach, but set the tone for how injuries will be noted.
Regarding New Mexico, he gave the usual compliments to the coaching staff and team, saying how hard they have worked to turn around their program, etc. He noted their option offense, and their ability to score points, an important point to a Rutgers defensive unit that seemed to take its time getting going in the first two games this season.
It was good to see how self-deprecating Coach Ash is regarding his own performance. When asked how he would grade his own performance, he unhesitatingly said, “I guess it's measured on wins and losses, and we're 1-1, so what's that, probably a C...We have a process that I think works, and it's really an infallible plan in my opinion, but we've just got to keep fine-tuning it as we go forward here with this group of people, coaches and players alike.”
Interestingly, Coach Ash saw a difference between how the team got off to a slow start at Howard as opposed to how they also had a slow start against Howard: “When you look back at the Washington game, I wouldn't call it necessarily a slow start. I think we got hit in the mouth by a pretty good football team who's in the top 10 right now. I think they're two different scenarios. Do I think our football team was prepared and ready to go play in both weeks? Yeah, I do. But we did start slow against Howard. Can't deny that, won't deny that. We did. We can't do that against a really good-quality opponent or we'll put ourselves in a hole that we can't get out of...”
It was obvious that questions would be asked about the insertion of three quarterbacks into the game against Howard and how that would play out in the remainder of the season. Ash was clear, that it was done to give exposure in a non-pressure situation once the game was already in hand. It was also designed to give both Gio and Tylin as well as the team practice with the running game options.
However, when asked if he envisioned a scenario where there would be multiple quarterbacks as a regular part of the offense, Ash shut that thought down, but left a door open to change, based upon performance: “Chris Laviano is still our starter, but we're still evaluating that position just like we are several positions on what we've got to do to get it better and perform better on Saturdays. Chris knows that, and we all know that. We're working diligently every day to try to work on the things that need to be worked on with him, and it's like any other position, if we keep going and the production isn't there or we don't feel like a certain individual gives us the best chance to win, then we'll look at other options.”
In the most obvious question at the presser was when a reporter mentioned that Jamarion Grant was the most dynamic player on the team. Ash even interrupted him at that point with a joking, “How’d you figure that out?”
However, his real answer says much more about the plan of attack for the offense this season: “Janarion obviously is probably -- he is at the top of the list when you look at the playmakers on our football team, so we have to be able to get him the football as many different ways as we can, whether it's at wide out, quarterback, running back, in the run game, in the pass game...I think you see it a lot of different ways, and that trend will continue.”
In his final thought, he mentioned that along with Rob Martin and Jamarion Grant, both of whom have been spoken about a lot, Ash likes the progression of two-sport athlete and football wide receiver Jawuan Harris. As Ash put it, “Once he came over to football full time and we really got a chance to work with our team and our staff, he showed right away that he had the ability to potentially be a playmaker for us. He had a great summer, had a really good training camp. I think he's off to a pretty good start in the first two games. Anxious to see him continue to grow and progress and learn the offense and become a bigger part of our offense...I would throw Jawuan Harris as another one that has playmaker ability that's in that top group of guys that we need to find ways to get the football to.”
To watch the entire press conference, click on the link below.