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Role of Rutgers TEs returns, but there’s a catch

Ash notes the team is “thin” at Tight End.

West Virginia Mountaineers v Rutgers Knights
RU has had some great TEs, Harris and Johnson may have been the best 1-2 punch.
Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Today marks 2017 Spring Practice #2!

The most forgotten group of the #10strong at RU in 2016 was that of the Tight End. In 2017 though, new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill will bring back more variation to the Rutgers offense which includes an expanded role for the position. The big splash came in recruiting when versatile athlete and All-State high school performer Brendan Devera was brought in as an ‘H-back’. We don’t know much yet (and perhaps neither does Kill) about exactly how much this tight end/h-back/fullback group will play or in what alignments, but we do know there will be more of a place on the Knights roster for versatile players who block and catch the ball.

Last year’s preview saw plenty of capable players. Since then Charles Scarff transferred, Nick Arcidiacono is out of eligibility, and Matt Flanagan elected to use his 5th year as a graduate student elsewhere. So it came as no surprise when Chris Ash noted in his first spring press conference the team is “lean” in this area but “Coach Kill wants to be able to use Tight Ends”, they will find bodies.

Devera and fellow incoming freshman Travis Vokolek are not on campus yet. So Knights special teams coach Vince Okruch, who doubles as the tight ends coach, gets the short end of the stick. On the plus side, this is not a situation Okruch or even Coach Kill hasn’t seen before.

So who plays tight end in spring practice?

George Behr was announced as moving to medical scholarship, so he’s out, likely a career ending injury. It’s unfortunate because we never got to see the Minnesota product on the field.

Jerome Washington, was announced by Ash in the presser as “limited due to postseason surgery”. He has the size (6’5, 245 at least) and a nose for the end zone (8 TD in a single JUCO season) earning him the #1 JC Tight End in 2014. Washington’s decision to sign with RU was big news despite only a single career FBS catch for 13 yards when with the Miami Hurricanes. A former 4-star recruit making him the highest tight end recruit since at least ...

Nakia Griffin-Stewart. Nakia is a 6’5”, 243 lb. Redshirt sophomore noted as our recruiting class of 2015 most likely to move up the depth chart. He ended up playing in only one game in 2016 and it was on punt coverage. By some sources, he was the highest recruit in his class, so hopefully we see it this year.

And the biggest question mark of them all is Myles Nash. Yes, after a position switch, the 6’5, 254 pounder will have a chance to find a niche on the offensive side. As a 5th year senior, there’s a plethora of roadblocks this high level athlete has hit, but he needs to put it all behind him.

What does this mean for the fall 2017 season?

When writing this article, there was not a photo of any of the guys on this list for the headline which tells you all you need to know about the group’s game experience (lack of). With only two scholarship players getting reps in spring we will see one of two scenarios on game day.

  1. Somebody shows tremendous growth due to the emphasis the coaching staff has on player development and it pays off. Perhaps Washington is so good, defenses need to game plan for him or Nash’s pure athletic ability makes him a threat any time he has the ball in his hands.
  2. More likely, Kill finds a niche for each of the contributors. Coach Ash made a point in the presser to note how the team needs to find ways to get it’s 11 best players on the field regardless of position. Offensively that seems to mean more packages for specific personnel groups to maximize their talents.

I think it will be #2 with the ability to morph into #1 provided game success. In a heavy package, Nash will set up as an in line blocker who could sneak out in play action against an unsuspecting and hopefully mismatched D-end or nickel corner. Washington will be the featured red zone target. Griffin-Stewart will get reps as a flex TE and at H-back reminding everyone of his linebacker days when he comes around the corner to hit somebody. Devera will share the role as a more compact blocker and experienced ball carrier in situations that require the H-back to be more in the backfield. Since he will be a true freshman I doubt he will be overloaded with formations (even though he was a QB in HS).

Historically, Tight End has been one of, if not the most consistently good position on the banks. This illustrious history will be covered in a future article, but for now let’s just rattle off some of the pros since the turn of the century: L.J. Smith, Rashod Kent (if he counts), Clark Harris, Sam Johnson, Shamarr Graves, Kevin Brock, D.C. Jefferson, Tim Wright (another asterisk), Tyler Kroft. Not to mention all the guys who spent at least three seasons on the two deep: Arcidiacono, Flanagan, Paul Carrezola, Sam Bergen (at various positions), Chris Loomis. And if we dip into the 90s, this guy Marco Battaglia was pretty good, too.

Let’s hope Jerry Kill and Vince Okruch can find an emerging star in this group.

Arkansas v Rutgers
Kroft exploded on the scene against Arkansas and continued where he left off the following meeting.
Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images