With the news on Thursday that the current #2 quarterback on the roster, Zach Allen, tore his ACL and is out indefinitely, it’s time to take a hard look at the most important position on any football team. Of the five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster for Rutgers football last season, the only player that will suit up for the 2017 opener against Washington on September 1st is returning starter Gio Rescigno. Let’s break down the current group of QB’s, the reinforcements on the way, as well as a possible addition later on this spring.
The Starter - Gio Rescigno
The good news is that if you could only pick one of the five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster last season to be the last man standing right now, Gio is hands down who you want under center. After barely playing during the first half of the season, he showed flashes of real potential to be the man moving forward. His mobility was limited towards the end and it reduced his effectiveness, but all reports this spring indicated Gio has reasserted himself as the clear #1 QB on the roster. Although depth at the position is shaky at best now for the program with just a little more than 4 months until the 2017 season begins, having a clear starter proves things could be worse.
The Fallen Backup - Zach Allen
The TCU graduate transfer made little impact last season, but he provided some security as a veteran backup behind Gio. Aside from feeling for Allen in getting hurt and having a long recovery ahead of him, the worst part of this is Rutgers will not have much experience at quarterback behind Gio, at least at the start of the 2017 season. However, Allen has never even started a game in college. Still, it’s disappointing to not have Allen available and having no timetable for his return, per Ryan Dunleavy of NJ Advance Media, as he decides the best course of action in his recovery. We wish him well, whatever Zach decides.
The Walk-On Backup - Troy Anthony
Did you know that Anthony is entering his third season with the program? He transferred from Division III Hobart in 2015, but has never seen game action at Rutgers. He played for Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, New York before that and was an All-Area selection by the Troy Record coming out of high school. He is a 5th year senior and despite being the official backup to Gio as of now, that will change once several newcomers land on campus in June.
The Grad Transfer - Rob Nittolo
Adding Nittolo looks even better today, as he actually has the most experience as a starter on the roster, despite it being at the Division II level. He passed for 1,947 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2015 at Southern Connecticut State, earning both ECAC Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Northeast-10 Conference All-Rookie Team. He was off to a good start in 2016 before suffering a season ending injury in his fifth game of the season. The former Hillsborough star has two years remaining and is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer. Even with the lack of depth, Nittolo will probably be at best the third QB on the depth chart. Still, he is a solid backup that at worst can help run the scout teams and at best, could be serviceable at the FBS level if he is called into game action. For more on Nittolo, our David Anderson wrote a detailed overview on him just a few days ago here.
The Walk-On Transfer - Tommy Wyatt
The former walk-on at Temple announced he was transferring to Rutgers at the beginning of this month. The former Overbrook high star from Clementon, New Jersey was originally recruited by Ash soon after he was named head coach at Rutgers. At 6’4” and over 200 pounds, the dual threat signal caller adds quality depth at the position. He took a redshirt at Temple last season, but Wyatt could be a nice project for the staff to develop into a capable backup over time. While he could battle Nittolo for the third spot on the depth chart next season, even if he proves capable of running the scout team, he is a solid addition.
The Future - Johnathan Lewis
In my mind, the news on Allen’s injury does not change anything about the situation for Lewis once he arrives on campus. The fact is Lewis will have every opportunity to win the starting job in 2017, whether Allen is active or not, and at worst would have probably earned the #2 spot ahead of Allen in the fall. Rutgers fans can dislike former offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer for his poor performance last season, which is warranted, but it should not be forgotten that he was a positive factor in getting Lewis to commit to Rutgers. While Gio is the favorite to start the season opener against Washington, it’s possible Lewis wins the job in training camp this August. Even if he doesn’t, he seems a lock to see the field at some point this fall. The biggest question is when, not if. I spoke to new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill back in February and this is what he said about Lewis:
“I’m very excited, we need a dynamic player at that position. We need a dual threat quarterback in what we are trying to do. The learning curve is going to be important, in terms of how fast he can learn and how fast we can get him going. That’s a hard position for a freshman. It’s not going to be easy, because of the grind of college football, but I think Johnathan is fired up about coming and working to get a job. We are certainly excited about him.”
The Insurance Policy - Kyle Bolin
Just hours before it was announced that Allen suffered an ACL injury, a writer for the Courier-Journal who covers Louisville football tweeted this report:
Hearing that Rutgers has offered Louisville QB transfer Kyle Bolin. Cincy, NIU, WMU are others, along with Texas interest— Steve Jones (@SteveJones_CJ) April 20, 2017
Bolin is graduating from Louisville in May in just three years and will be immediately eligible as a grad transfer next season. He started five games for Louisville in 2015, before ultimately losing out to Lamar Jackson, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy the following season. In his three years at Louisville, Bolin threw for 2,104 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The 6’2’’ signal caller isn’t much of a dual threat as a runner, but would certainly be an intriguing option for Rutgers. And if Bolin ends up somewhere else, don’t think the staff isn’t looking at other options as well.
UPDATE: Bolin is visiting this weekend.
Visiting Rutgers University this weekend ♂️ @RossDoug21 you better show me a good time‼️— Kyle Bolin (@_kb14_) April 21, 2017
Chris Laviano (San Diego State); Hayden Rettig (Tennessee Tech); Mike Dare (unknown)
Tylin Oden (Garden City CC in Kansas)
Depth is certainly a concern at quarterback for next season. However, having Gio Rescigno in line to start should be a more attractive thought to fans than the last two seasons of having Chris Laviano as the opening starter. Gio showed some moxie in a few games and when healthy, he proved to be an effective quarterback at times. The arrival of Johnathan Lewis should give hope that a better future exists for the program. He is physically ready to compete against Gio from day one. It will come down to his grasp of the playbook and his ability to adjust to the speed of the college game. By all accounts, his maturity and preparedness, along with his talent, make him as exciting a prospect at quarterback that Rutgers has had in many years.
Although the depth behind Gio and Lewis is thin, you have to credit the staff in adding solid walk-on players in Rob Nittolo and Tommy Wyatt in the past month. If anything, they add capable options to run the scout teams and provide depth in the quarterback room. Whether Rutgers adds a grad transfer like Bolin, or someone else, Ash has proven in a short time that he is always actively considering every option available in adding talent to the program. Losing Allen to injury isn’t ideal, but at the end of the day, things could be much worse.