To the casual fan, Spring Football practice may not be a blip on their radar. The average fan is aware, but likely won’t look “too deep” into what happens or is said about the depth chart. In fact, I have found it to be so boring to someone like my wife, I talk about it as a way to help her fall asleep at night.
BUT to those fans like many of us at OTB, this is the portal into the minds of the coaching staff we have been waiting for since the final whistle in College Park that concluded last season. Let’s examine the key takeaways from today’s announcement of the two-deep after the fourth of fifteen Rutgers Scarlet Knight spring football practices. Get excited!
Rutgers releases spring practice depth chart. Nakia Griffin-Stewart listed as starting tight end pic.twitter.com/kTMF5sSez4— Griffin Whitmer (@griffinwhitmer) March 30, 2017
1. Where are Janarion Grant and Jawuan Harris, has someone been tricking us? No, with Grant injured and Harris playing baseball they are not listed on the two-deep. Prince Taylor, was he in Major League? Earlier this week I asked about Quanel Williams, figuring he would get a crack at some of the available reps at wideout, but have been told he is ineligible until fall as a non-qualifier. Taylor has shown something as a walk-on.
2. The position of fullback has returned from the shadows! The two-deep has an extra role as a result. It would be nice to have 12 players on the field offensively, but is still a flag from the zebras. Of course RU moved two walk-on linebackers to the position since it had been eliminated from the offense a year ago.
3. Brandon Russell who? The redshirt senior from Florida enrolled early seemingly forever ago, but never earned steady reps on defense. Despite always being considered versatile and at times showing up at each of the three linebacker spots on the two-deep, this is his best opportunity. Brandon is currently listed as the starter though he will battle incumbent and currently injured Tyreek Maddox-Williams at strong side linebacker.
Who else is M.I.A. and why?
Marcus Applefield and David Bonagura are missing spring due to injury plus the more highly reported Maddox-Williams, Jerome Washington, and of course Grant. George Behr and Jarius Adams have been reported as having career-ending injuries.
Position changes: Solomon Manning was moved from linebacker to defensive end which likely set him behind Lumor and Hogan. A position change hasn’t stopped Myles Nash though! With injuries to Jerome Washington and Behr, Nash will have plenty of opportunities at Tight End. Ross Douglas moved too and appears as the backup SLB.
None of the early enrollees are listed.
What positions are most likely to see changes in Spring? In Summer/Fall?
Trevor Morris may be listed as the starter but he is banged up this spring so several other players are getting reps at outside linebacker. After an uneven first season as a starter, I expect him to have to battle hard when he returns to full strength. He will also need to hold off the highly regarded group of freshman as well as possibly the loser of the aforementioned SLB battle.
Wide receiver naturally with the potential re-additions of Grant, Harris, and a plethora of true freshman with talent. Corner also could have an impact freshman, though the staff seems pretty confident in their top 3 of Austin, Wharton, and Hayes right now.
Offensive line is always a fluid situation evidenced several times in the last decade (Andre Civil and Taj Alexander come to mind) when an established starter struggled to continue to prove it in practice and was replaced on game day. Sam Howson as the backup center came as a surprise, even though he should be too busy to tell me I told you so after my review of the 2016 recruiting class. On the other hand, perhaps his tweet was a jab at fellow competitor for the center spot, Michael Maietti, so I am not safe from the redshirt freshman.
Does this mean anything? To game results or in recruiting?
If you didn’t know how important spring practice was, Jerry Kill mentioned in his interview that for the quarterback it’s extremely important. We expect the rest of the positions to follow suit. I’ll defer additional QB talk to our other OTB gurus.
Jumping out at me like Kemoko Turay toward field goal attempts in 2014 was the defensive line. With so many graduating seniors, many new players are expected to step up. What makes this interesting is the shift to more athleticism up front. Elorm Lumor? Forgot he was on the team! I’m kidding about forgetting, but he’s a guy who came in as a highly rated recruit, enrolled early, and some thought could contribute as a true freshman. RU had virtually no disruptive pass rush in 2016 for a number of reasons, but with Turay and Lumor will try to add that dimension in 2017. Kevin Wilkins, a former wrestling star, also has shown some moves both dancing and picking off a pass against Nebraska in 2015. No way to know if this will bode well for the defensive line this year, but something will happen every time they are out there.
Motivated ... Kobe Marfo thought he might be a starter a season ago with the lack of depth, but ended up not playing a down. Corner is thin in spring, but despite that the staff moved Ross Douglas to strong side linebacker, so there could be an opening for dime corner currently occupied by Zane Campbell. The staff surely likes Campbell’s energy and play-making ability flashed on special teams, but of course he could be starting if there are injuries at a position that always needs backups. Trey Sneed and Charles Snorweah at running back fall in the same category.
Chris Ash noted he hopes (even expects) the recruits who signed a NLI to study their playbook and visit spring practice if appropriate. Seeing none of their classmates on the initial two-deep should serve as a wake-up call. It also re-affirms Ash’s message to future recruits that the best guys will play, but they need to earn it.
The staff has mentioned several times they need to figure out how to get their best 11 players on the field. Each position is a player by player decision, but some overall themes emerge. The depth chart at face value gives no insight into what players may have a niche role, but you may be able to read between the lines.
- Athleticism: On the defense alone, I count 9 of the 11 spots are occupied by the player who is seemingly the best athlete (even if not most football skilled) at this point in time. I thought the new staff preferred not going undersized but it looks like they have reached the same conclusion as the Schiano/Flood regimes. Even at QB, Jerry Kill was mentioned how Gio runs even better than he hoped.
- Honor(s) system: An example of the “best athlete” not on the two-deep is Razohnn Gross. He re-joined the team for spring ball. Whether or not he will become a starter down the line, he hasn’t proven to this staff anything on the field. I’d expect the black stripe to remain on his helmet a while. This is a common theme where veterans who bought in early to the Ash philosophies are being rewarded for their contributions. None of the early enrollees has a strong enough resume yet.
- Lack of depth: It’s not as bleak as two years ago when only 8 healthy offensive linemen suited up for the spring game, but RU is thin in many areas. Every spring feels like the team is thin, but looking at some of the positions like wide receiver and offensive line spots, there are so many players on the two-deep who have never played a down of college football.
- Upside. A year ago the staff used the depth chart as a tool to motivate players like Turay and Hicks. Turay stayed injured but Hicks turned it on in the summer. This year it seems the staff is penciling in guys they think have the highest ceiling in 2017 and hoping they grow into that potential. Micah Clark of course has long term potential, but hasn’t shown it yet to warrant a spot here.
Comment below at what jumped out at you so far this spring, especially with the first public draft of the depth chart.
Full depth chart, returning starters in BOLD.
QB: Giovanni Rescigno, Zach Allen OR Tylin Oden
RB: Robert Martin OR Josh Hicks.
FB: Max Anthony, Jim Brady
WR: Damon Mitchell, Mo Jabbie
WR: Ahmir Mitchell, Rashad Blunt
WR: Dacoven Bailey, Prince Taylor
TE: Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Myles Nash
LT: Tariq Cole, Mike Lonsdorf
LG: Dorian Miller, Zach Venesky
C: Jonah Jackson, Sam Howson
RG: Zach Heeman, Nick Krimin
RT: Kamaal Seymour, Manny Taylor
DE: Darnell Davis JR, Jimmy Hogan
DE: Kemoko Turay, Elorm Lumor
DT: Sebastian Joseph, Jon Bateky
NT: Kevin Wilkins, Eric Wiafe
SLB: Brandon Russell, Ross Douglas
MLB: Deonte Roberts, Rashawn Battle
WLB: Trevor Morris, TJ Taylor OR Eric Margolis
CB: Isaiah Wharton, Zane Campbell
CB: Blessuan Austin, Damon Hayes
FS: Saquan Hampton, K.J. Gray
SS: Kiy Hester, Lawrence Stevens
K: Jared Smolar, Gavin Haggerty
P: Michael Cintron, Smolar
LS: Alan Lucy, Matthew Sportelli