It may still feel and look like winter in New Jersey, but next week marks the beginning of Spring Practice for Rutgers football. The first practice begins on March 23rd and period ends on April 22nd with the Spring Game, which will be aired on BTN at 5 pm. Here is a the full practice schedule, as tweeted out by new cornerbacks coach Henry Baker.
Spring Game Live! #BTN #B1G pic.twitter.com/w2K7VyJzmq— Henry Baker (@CoachHB) February 23, 2017
The team that takes the field on Friday, September 1st at home against Washington will look different from the one we will see this spring. Many new personnel additions will not be participating in spring practice and won’t be on campus until the summer. Top recruits from the 2017 class in Johnathan Lewis and Bo Melton, who could have an impact next season, are still finishing high school. Miami grad transfer Gus Edwards is completing his degree under the Coral Gables sun. And returning receiver Jawuan Harris will be stealing bases on the diamond and not be a full participant this spring. With practice beginning less than a week from now, here are five questions that we should find out more about by the end of the Spring Game.
What Will The New Spread Offense Look Like?
Spring practice will be the first time we have a chance to see the new look spread offense under coordinator Jerry Kill. We know he plans to use a fullback/lead blocker at times, something that Rutgers completely dropped last season in transitioning from the pro-style offense to Drew Mehringer’s spread offense. It will also be interesting to see how the tight ends are used in comparison to last season. Kill stressed to me in this interview how important it is to mold the offense to the personnel he has. He also spoke about the importance of establishing what the offense does best and can be viewed as a strength. Hopefully, he will learn a lot about what he has to work with by the end of the Spring Game in late April.
Can The Incumbents Solidify Their Standing?
With quarterback of the future Johnathan Lewis not set to arrive on campus until the summer, incumbent starter Gio Rescigno has a great opportunity in spring practice to prove he should be the unquestioned starter in the fall. He has a leg up on Lewis, based on experience and having the first crack at running Kill’s new offense. In addition, running backs Robert Martin & Josh Hicks have a chance to assert themselves atop the depth chart in the spring. They’ll have a leg up on Edwards by having the opportunity to experience Kill’s offense first. They also get to work with new running backs coach Lester Erb this spring and prove to him they can be effective lead backs next season.
How Big Of An Impact Will The Mitchell Brothers Have Next Season?
From all accounts, Arkansas graduate transfer Damon Mitchell is already assumed a leadership role within the receiving core and the program overall. Here is a great article on his instant impact from Ryan Dunleavy of NJ Advance Media. While it will be interesting to see how far he can climb up the depth chart at receiver, he should also be a big help with special teams. Brother Ahmir, who was a highly touted recruit that quickly transferred last fall from Michigan to the banks, has his first opportunity to show what he can do on the field this spring. If he can learn the offense and establish a role in the spring, he could be in line to be a legitimate weapon next season.
Will Physical Gains Show Up On The Field?
After getting pushed around for most of last season in Big Ten play, I’m most interested in seeing how the offensive line looks physically this spring. It’s fair to expect more progress from a strength and conditioning standpoint after a second off-season under Kenny Parker’s guidance. With the returning players having known what to expect this time around, the potential for more effective workouts and improved gains existed. We will get a better idea of how this team looks physically at the spring game. Here is a great video that the program put out in appreciation of all the hard work that Parker and his staff put in with the team.
We appreciate Coach Parker & the entire Strength & Conditioning staff for their hard work. I'm proud of our players progress. #TheHunt pic.twitter.com/J0Jj3gBrfT— Chris Ash (@CoachChrisAsh) March 17, 2017
Is Janarion Grant On Schedule?
Speaking of physical gains, the offense is set to get their best player back this spring. From that same interview with Kill, he mentioned that Grant was running straight ahead, but not yet able to make cuts. That was back in early February and his limited ability to run at that time was expected. How much he will be able to participate in spring practice will be something to watch for. The fact that Grant was participating in the winter strength and conditioning program is a positive sign. Obviously, the staff will look to work him back in the mix slowly and I highly doubt he will play in the spring game. The good news is he will have a chance to learn Kill’s offense this spring and Grant should be ready to shine in his senior season when training camp begins in August. For now, watch this great highlight video of Grant and all of the eight kickoff/punt returns for touchdowns throughout his career. Janarion needs one more touchdown return on special teams this season to break the NCAA record for most all-time.
What are you most interested in from an offensive standpoint during spring practice? Sound off in the comment section!
Almost time to strap up & compete! Can't wait for Spring Ball. #TheHunt pic.twitter.com/Scs2BHBuAZ— Chris Ash (@CoachChrisAsh) March 15, 2017