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Impact of a Rutgers Football Youth Movement

Midseason Scholarship Update provides context.

Washington v Rutgers
Blackshear may need to get more carries.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In the preseason, we looked at the current scholarship players and how many young men Rutgers could potential add. Teams can have up to 85 players on scholarship.

On Saturday, Illinois started 10 true freshmen and written about by OTB’s Jim Hoffman. It was reported the Illini played twenty of their 2017 recruiting class, even though their ranking was actually a tick below Rutgers per 247sports. It showed on the field after Chris Ash pledged Rutgers will continue to play its best players, regardless of remaining eligibility, who have earned playing time. This led to a 35-24 win that was not even as close as the score indicated. Thirteen true freshmen have already played this season for Rutgers and could see expanded roles. If Rutgers was to move toward a youth movement as either freshmen get better or younger players leapfrog older ones, what impact would it have to each position group?

Position (expected scholarship count): Current Scholarship players (eligibility remaining including this year), freshmen in italics.

Quarterback (4): Bolin (1), Allen (1), Rescigno (2), Lewis (4). Notable walk-ons: Nittolo (2), Flacco (2)

In line for redshirt: None. Ineligible: Flacco (transfer)

Injured: None. Additions: Flacco. Losses: T. Anthony (now coach), Wyatt (to WR)

Tom Flacco’s scholarship status is uncertain moving forward, as it was previously reported that he was walking on to the program. It seems logical he would eventually get one though because of having played in 13 games for a conference champion Western Michigan club in 2016, his services would be in some level of demand. Zach Allen is not 100%, but has been in uniform after electing not to have surgery on a torn ACL.

Youth movement impact: Medium. Gio Rescigno earned a start against Purdue this week. He has one year of eligibility remaining after this one, but is at risk for injury with his scrambling, reckless style. Johnathan Lewis has seen an increased workload and may even end up starting, especially if Gio gets banged up. The reason I didn’t list this as high is because Lewis is already getting reps and if he could throw rhythm passes would already be starting.

Ohio State v Rutgers
Lewis is a big, fast guy with a cannon.
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Running back (7): Martin (1), Hicks (1), Edwards (1), Snorweah (2), Sneed (3), Barnwell (4), Blackshear (4). Notable walk-ons: M. Anthony (3), Brady (4), Pugh (4)

In line for redshirt: Sneed, Barnwell

Injured: None. Additions: None. Losses: DeVera (to LB)

Sneed was reported by as being in line for a redshirt after playing as a true freshman in 2016. Blackshear has already played and will have a larger package of plays with each passing week. Now that we are more than 30% of the way through the season, true seniors Martin and Hicks will be done after 2017 for sure, as well as grad transer Gus Edwards.

Youth movement impact: Medium. Blackshear and Snorweah are the only scholarship running backs not in line for a redshirt that will be back next season. Blackshear already has a steady role in the offense but it should expand as the team focuses on the need for more speed and playmaking. Snorweah was not moved to the defensive backfield this week despite playing corner previously so perhaps he could get time at running back in some capacity. With three of the seven moving on, Snorweah will get a long look in spring as only two players, including Sneed who is currently redshirting, will have ever carried the ball in the game heading into 2018. Also if Blackshear gets dinged up, Snorweah is the only other true speed back on the roster.

Tight End (4): Nash (1) Griffin-Stewart (2), Washington (2), Vokolek (4)

In line for redshirt: Vokolek.

Injured: None. Additions: None. Losses: None.

Youth movement impact: Low Medium. This position has been the most stable on the team with Washington and Griffin-Stewart making contributions in the passing game and Nash adding blocking. Nakia and Jerome have eligibility past 2017 plus Vokolek we thought would redshirt barring more than one injury in a winnable game. BUT that all changed Saturday when Travis became the 14th true freshman to see action even after Coach Kill said early in the week he is only around 220 pounds. Since the wideouts are not producing, why not see if another young tight end can make some plays?

Morgan State v Rutgers
Melton has made one big play on offense.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Wide Receiver (10): Grant (1), D. Mitchell (1), Bailey (3), Jabbie (4), A. Mitchell (4), Melton (4), Wormley (4), H. Hayek (4), S. Jones (4), T. Hayek (4). Notable walk-ons: Schoen (1), Murphy (2) Provillon (2), P. Taylor (4), Garvin (4), Ceneus (4), Wyatt (4)

In line for redshirt: S. Jones, T. Hayek. Grayshirt: E. Lewis.

Injured: A. Mitchell (week to week). Additions: Wyatt (from QB), T. Hayek (from DB). Losses: Harris (to DB), Blunt (to DB).

Eddie Lewis was previously listed, but is in fact a grayshirt. Bailey is the only upperclassman who did not redshirt as a true freshman, but has played in the first six games and will not this year either. Tommy Wyatt came from Temple as an option quarterback but he been playing wideout. Tyler Hayek is also listed as a receiver, but has not seen action.

Youth movement impact: Medium. Three true freshmen (Melton, Wormley, H. Hayek) plus sophomore Bailey are already earning meaningful snaps so this wouldn’t really be a major change. Jabbie has been good on special teams (huge shoe-string tackle against Illinois), but not contributed at wideout yet. When healthy, Grant simply has to get reps to open up space for other players even if he is not 100%. The real wildcard here is when former 4 star recruit Ahmir Mitchell returns from an ACL injury. He offers a package of physical attributes when healthy that no one else in the group can match. Right now the big, “possession” receiver of the group has been his brother Damon, but he has yet to really get in a rhythm with any of the QB’s. Ahmir has never played in a college game, but could be an X-factor down the stretch. If he and Grant are healthy, could Jabbie play slot corner?

Offensive Line (16): Miller (1), Cole (2), Applefield (2), Heeman (2), Seymour (3), Taylor (3), Jackson (3), Venesky (3), Krimin (4) Howson (4), Maietti (4), Lonsdorf (4), Vretman (4), Beaty (4), M. Clark (4), Bowles (4). Notable walk-ons: Pyrame (3) Onulak (4) Miseo (4), Zarzecki (4)

In line for redshirt: Beaty, Bowles, Miseo, Zarzecki

Injured: Jackson (1-4 weeks). Additions: None on scholarship. Losses: None

Zarzecki and Miseo are walk-ons who could not participate until the fall semester began. Every non-freshman has reshirted, even though Zach Venesky was listed on the two-deep as a true frosh.

Youth movement impact: Medium. Maietti is already starting at center so that means the staff feels he is the best player at that position as a redshirt freshman. Tariq Cole simply has to play, but at the right tackle spot Clark and Vretman have already played as true freshmen and could see some more reps. Seymour was backed by his coach last week and I’d like to see him at guard a little bit. Maybe Manny Taylor sees and opportunity there as well or Mike Lonsdorf who was the swing tackle at one point. Zach Venesky narrowly lost the right guard job in training camp to Applefield, but has been generally M.I.A. In lower leverage situations, Miller might get a breather. The plan of ensuring Krimin gets snaps has been executed thus far with no glaring issues. So maybe we see a Krimin/Miller rotation at left guard with Nick gradually getting a higher percentage of snaps.

Defensive Line (15): Turay (1), Davis (1), Joseph (1) Hogan (2), Wilkins (2), Bateky (2), Wiafe (2), Previlon (3), Manning (4) Turner (4) Lumor (4), Bordner (4), Mason (4), Tverdov (4), Duggan (4) Notable walk-ons: Griggs (4), Harris (2)

In line for redshirt: Bordner, Mason, Tverdov, Duggan.

Injured: Hogan (expected back this week) Additions: Harris. Losses: Wiafe (personal)

Nash has had to play here in addition to tight end, though i didn’t list him in the group to cause counting confusion. Say that three times fast. Terrence Harris is a transfer from Lackawanna college who played high school ball at Paramus Catholic. Wiafe recently left the team for personal reasons, but nothing was reported that he would never return.

Youth movement impact: Low. The true freshmen don’t appear ready and with linemen, redshirting for an extra year of strength is usually the plan anyway. Everyone else with the exception of Manning is already in the rotation. Lumor has gotten plenty of opportunities as a pass rusher opposite Turay with little production to report thus far as he was swallowed up by Illinois young albeit massive offensive tackles. Bateky is the only guy who played as a true freshman and will be counted on to start next year. With three seniors in the top 5, only Wilkins and Bateky have an inside track to a starting job in 2018 so look for the staff to try and identify separation among the rest of the group to gain confidence heading into the off season.

NCAA Football: Washington at Rutgers
Fatukasi and Mo Jabbie celebrate a tackle.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker (13): Douglas (1), Taylor (1), Russell (2), Margolis (2), Morris (2), Roberts (2), Maddox-Williams (3), Battle (4), Fogg (4), Fatukasi (4), Onyechi (4), DeVera (4), Simmons (4) Notable walk-ons: Rosa (3)

In line for redshirt: Maddox-Williams (medical), Simmons.

Injured: Maddox-Williams, Taylor. Additions: DeVera (from fullback). Losses: None.

T.J. Taylor has had bad luck with injuries, so there’s an outside chance he could petition for a 6th year of eligibility.

Youth movement impact: High. Four true freshmen: Fogg, Fatukasi, Onyechi, and DeVera have all played on special teams. Battle is big and agile, so he and the 4 aforementioned true freshmen should see some additional looks down the stretch. Other than Ross Douglas, everyone should be back so the competition in this group could get intense on gameday, in practice, and even off the field. Simmons is a Trevor Morris type at 200 pounds with good speed who may have been at safety had their not been other guys in his class also profiling there. Simmons may also be needed at running back in spring ball, and De Vera could switch back to H-back where he was recruited at some point.

Defensive back (14): Hampton (2), Austin (2), Hester (2), Wharton (2), Harris (3), Blunt (3), Marfo (3), Hayes (3), Gray (3), Avery (3), Stevens (4) Barrow (4), E. Lopez (4), N. Jones (4) Notable walk-ons: Campbell (1), McDuffie (2)

In line for redshirt: Barrow, E. Lopez, N. Jones. Ineligible: Avery (transfer)

Injured: Hampton (likely season), Austin (season) Additions: Avery, Harris, Blunt. Losses: Briscoe (personal), T. Hayek (to WR).

Transfer Briscoe was already sitting out, but then left the team for personal reasons and may not return. Avery effectively replaced him and is also sitting out due to transfer rules and was reported to be on scholarship. Larry Stevens was reported to have earned a scholarship. Harris and Blunt came over from wide receiver with Harris starting right now. Hampton is hurting and likely done for the year, though a return has not been completely ruled out.

Youth movement impact: Low. If the staff had confidence in any of the true freshmen, one of them would be in line for reps and two players wouldn’t have come over from receiver in the last two weeks. With only Campbell running out of eligibility, snaps may be harder to come by in 2018 than they are in the second half of 2017. If there’s one guy to keep an eye on, it’s Lopez. “Tank” could be a special teams warrior to justify his participation with defensive snaps gravy, but after Harris’s performance and some unwinnable games on the schedule probably not this fall. It would be nice if Marfo (corner) and Blunt could get some experience that they could take into the off-season. This unit should return to being the team’s best in 2018 with it’s top six returning, even if Harris foregoes his eligibility to test the waters of professional baseball.

Indiana v Rutgers
Cintron got plenty of action in 2016, none in 2017.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Specialists (2): Lucy (1), Anderson (1) Notable walk-ons: Harte (1), Bonagura (1), Cintron (2), Haggerty (3), Sportelli (4), Davidovicz (4)

In line for redshirt: Lucy?

Injured: None. Additions: None. Losses: None.

Anderson starts over Cintron. Harte won the placekicking job by a nose over Davidovicz and Bonagura. Davidovicz handles kickoffs. Taylor surprised passing Lucy. Lucy has not played this season I don’t believe so he could redshirt as a senior and be back again in 2018. Anything on his thoughts for 2018 would be speculative at this point.

Youth movement impact: Medium. True freshmen lock down two spots already; Taylor (long-snapper) and Davidovicz (kickoffs), but could they look to give Davidovicz placekicking opportunities too? Expect yes if Harte struggles or perhaps even a spring hero Gavin Haggerty sighting. Anderson has punted well, but will they give Cintron opportunities to show improvement and build confidence for 2018? Less likely per Ash’s comments.

Conclusion: By my count, Rutgers is functionally now at the full 85 scholarships used, counting Wiafe who recently left the team and could return, and not including Briscoe.

  1. The first thing that is that the team does have positional balance. They may not be a good team but at least the roster has players at every position to form a two-deep. Rutgers is down to seven scholarship DB’s who are healthy, but every other position group has plenty of bodies. This may not sound like much, but remember this is a program that was down to maybe six scholarship DB’s (total, not just healthy) in early 2015 including four freshmen (Hester, Hampton, Austin, and Wharton) all pressed into action way before they were ready. The same team that four months earlier only had 8 healthy offensive linemen for the spring game, scholarship OR walk-on, remember the black jerseys they had to wear? Or more recently only two healthy quarterbacks for the 2017 spring game, one of which was a walk-on and now assistant coach, Troy Anthony? The defensive line and running backs will take a hit this off-season, but every other group should only suffer minimal, what would be considered normal losses. (One caveat: If Jerome Washington explodes more in the second half and tries to go to the NFL, Tight End may be thin).
  2. Running back is a position where true freshmen (Isaih Pacheco and Stevie Scott are currently committed in the 2018 class) can often excel so despite losing three of the top four ball carriers, the team should absorb loses better than on the D-line. After losing their top three players after 2016 and now three more starters (Davis, Turay, and Joseph plus two-way Myles Nash) graduating in 2017, meaning 2018 could be a step back for Shane Burnham’s group. Burnham smartly has rotated in almost everyone in his unit so far though so there will be experience returning. The key will be finding someone to be a legit outside pass rusher after significant development from one of the guys who haven’t shown much yet (Lumor, Manning, four redshirts). Another possibility is Battle moving down to the edge. It sure would be nice to fill out the 2018 class with an impact pass-rusher who might be able to play as a freshman and all indications are that is the staff’s top priority right now.
  3. Rutgers did not self-impose a scholarship reduction, and the NCAA did not drop a hammer on that either. Had they, the depth could have taken a hit and the 2018 recruiting class as well which may not have been pretty. Speaking of recruiting ...
  4. The new early signing period will be in effect from December 20-22. A longer piece will be published next week, but the short of it is that ideally Rutgers will get some signings and be better able to target remaining needs closer to official national signing day. Even one more Big Ten win might be enough to keep the current class generally intact.
  5. As always, it’s great to have good people in the program, balance, experience, etc but it comes down to winning on the field. Rutgers needs to do more of that to get better recruits and reduce attrition of its better players. When this staff was hired, they probably eyed 2018 as the real barometer of the program’s progress since historically that has been a good measuring stick across the country. One of our own had a nice piece that detailed “third year hope”. Even though Rutgers is not starting 10 true freshmen now, there will be no excuses in 2018 with so many contributors back.