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OTB Staff Round Table: What To Watch For With Rutgers Football Spring Game

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Our staff give some thoughts on what we will be focusing on in Saturday’s Scarlet-White game.

Iowa v Rutgers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s been an important spring for the program and there have been setbacks along the way. Wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell tore his ACL earlier this month, while backup QB Zach Allen did the same this past week. There has also been a lot of progress on the field. Head Coach Chris Ash gave his take on the state of the team last week here. We also gave some perspective on what a typical spring practice looks like. However, now it’s time for the Scarlet-White game on Saturday. It’s the main event of Spring Fever, which includes a full day of activities. Our staff got together to give our thoughts on what we are looking for in Saturday’s scrimmage, which concludes the spring practice period. Here we go!

Bob Cancro: First of all, it’s baseball season. Okay, on to football. I guess everyone wants to see who QB1 really is. Is Gio that improved as advertised? Will Zach Allen make a stab at it? (Whoops) Beyond that, I want to know if the lines - both sides of the ball - have grown up. Are they ready for Big Ten play? Can they block and open holes on the O and can they stuff, tackle, and sniff out the ball in the air? I would like to see some maturity in the players as they take the field, a sense that two full off seasons of training, prepping, and eating right is making a difference.

The other thing to see - or at least get a sense of - is how the new staff is meshing. Three new coaches, including the much heralded Jerry Kill calling the offense, will need to come together. And with Chris Ash, having hopefully learned a few lessons along the 2-10 way, providing more focus and direction. Other than that, just a nice day in the sun.

Cara Sanfilippo: I agree with Bob, but as someone who has regularly focused on the below par special teams and secondary play, I am excited to see how some of the new additions will improve overall game play. We have struggled with basics like starting field position, kicking field goals, and breaking up passes, so even small improvements in those areas will go a long way in my book.

I also am excited to see improved play calling with Jerry Kill, and with the coaching overall as we have some more experienced coaches calling the shots. I want to see the players get excited and have some fun, and hopefully a great fan turnout to support our team!

Aaron Breitman: While it will be fun to see the team in action, as well as some new faces in the mix, my focus is towards the future. I am most interested in the turn out of top recruits that are in attendance. Will certain prominent high school programs be there in large numbers? This to me, will be a way to measure how recruiting is truly going. I’m not too concerned with only having one commit for the class of 2018 so far. Ash and the staff have done a good job of hosting recruits throughout the spring. However, I think it is very important that there is a strong showing Saturday, as it's an opportunity to have many recruits and high school programs together at once. With a lot of football alums with NFL pedigrees likely to be in attendance as well, Saturday will be a great showcase for recruits to see the potential at Rutgers.

Dave White: It's a weird time for Rutgers football. Coming off a 2-10 season and waiting for the cavalry to arrive in the form of an intriguing recruiting class, Rutgers spring football game appeal is just that--football. I'm not sure how much the coaching staff will reveal on the field, but seeing how Jerry Kill transitions away (ever so slightly) from Drew Mehringer's offensive schemes will be the highlight. The spring game is a good chance to check out how the players have gotten bigger and faster and watch for some big plays. Also, it's the exciting last hurrah before the long summer quiet period. Get to the field and watch the Scarlet Knights! Upstream, Red Team. Also, Big and Rich is coming to your city, so there's that! Get your tailgate on.

Brian Dunshee: All eyes will be on offensive lineman Micah Clark, the team’s four-star and top overall recruit from this year’s recruiting class. Clark has a massive frame and is a bully on the offensive line. His run blocking has room to improve over his college career, though he has the ability to be a plus pass protector whenever he steps in.

Head Coach Chris Ash has mentioned this spring the strides cornerbacks Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin have made towards improving on their 2016 seasons. These two, along with safeties Saquan Hampton and Kiy Hester, are rewriting the way teams look at Rutgers’ secondary. The pass defense looks to continue to improve after a season in which they ranked 18thin the country with 186.5 yards per game.

After losing backup QB Zach Allen to a torn ACL, the team is heading into Saturday with just two quarterbacks. Gio Rescigno now seems penciled in as the unanimous number one with walk-on Troy Anthony likely to fill in behind him. It will be interesting to see how both perform. Let the games begin.

David Anderson: Expecting the most stable “off-season” in 8 years or so has turned into just the opposite. Regardless of whether there is live tackling (likely not) the key to me will be the energy level and confidence by everyone involved. Confidence exuded by the players seemed to hit a low during the Michigan State game that we haven’t seen since the 2010 season post Eric LeGrand injury especially on the defensive side. Now that they have had another camp to digest the schemes and are a year older I expect more decisiveness which in coach speak translates into “playing fast”. As I mentioned in a previous article, linebackers don’t have to be the most talented players on the defense, but they have to be the glue and I’ll be specifically watching Deonte Roberts as the fulcrum this weekend. On the offensive side, it was night and day when Gio stepped in at halftime of the Illinois game. We have heard he has done everything in his power to be the #1 QB which is good considering now he’s the only one on scholarship, so I’ll be focused on how the rest of the offense responds to him.

Energy for Rutgers in the Schiano years often came in the form of big special teams plays, which once Grant went down dropped to zero. We won’t see much special teams in the spring game either, so where or who will the enthusiasm come from? Will the recruits on hand seem excited? Will the players still appear energized and buying into the Ash regime? Will the coaches set a positive example every time a player needs it? Are the fans still sold on this staff? I know I am on board at the moment, but in this world of decreasing attention spans and “what have you done for me lately”, it is imperative that Rutgers football continues onward and upward. Will the early enrollees give us a reason to believe?

Mike Voza: I’m very interested in seeing how the quarterbacks run the offense. In particular, the play and leadership of Gio Rescigno. As with any QB, Gio is the key to an optimistic summer. I’ll also be focused on the offensive line. I will be looking for cohesiveness within the unit and overall talent upfront. I will paying extra attention on the three early enrollees: Jamaal Beaty, Sam Vretman, and Micah Clark. Also, I for one believe the defense is way ahead of the offense. I will not be surprised if the offense struggles to consistently move the ball. I’m hoping to see that the offensive players look comfortable in new OC Jerry Kill’s scheme.

RutgersNation86: I have to agree with Aaron here; I am very interested to see which recruits will be in attendance. It will be interesting to see which recruits make it onto campus especially with other “local” spring games taking place the same day; Penn State, Maryland, Syracuse, Temple, and Boston College to name a few. Here is a full breakdown of the NCAA football spring game schedules. Beyond the recruiting front I am interested in watching the team dynamic after the coaching changes that took place during the off-season. While it is unlikely coach Ash will show much in terms of actual scheme I am interested in seeing offensive Jerry Kill in action.

Jim Hoffman: This spring feels like ones we had in the late 90s. That is, we had a god-awful season last year, key injuries, and expectations are hopeful but not very high. That said, I am interested to see how the coaching changes impact the scrimmage.

Offense: Will Jerry Kill’s offense be recognizable, or will it look no different than in the past? Will AJ Blazek’s second season show growth from a offensive line that failed to meet expectations? How will Lester Erb impact the running back corps? Will he change how reps are distributed? While he won’t be playing, how does Janarion Grant’s return impact the receivers? Does it motivate the group or make them feel they can relax, since he’s the man?

Defense: How will the co-defensive coordinator role change the way things are done? Will a healthy Kemoko Turay motivate the DL? How will they react to the loss of Darius Hamilton? Will Henry Baker’s work with the cornerbacks make them the area of strength they once were?

Special Teams: Will they improve, please? Anything will be better than last year. I like Coach Okruch and feel he can do what needs to be done, but it needs to start, now!!!

Attendance: Will the fans demonstrate support? Though it seems as if it shouldn’t matter, how many fans come to the spring game is a indicator to many (including coaches and players) of the level of fan support for the team. So, will the numbers in attendance go up or down? By the way, folks, that’s the one YOU can impact. Come to the game! It really is a good time, with a lot going on. Come join the fun! Kickoff is at 5:00 PM, with a concert prior to the game, sales of gear in the bubble, and great tailgating, even in April.

Griffin Whitmer: Is this the least anticipated Spring game ever? Well, it’s hard to say. Coming off a 2-10 season, one scholarship quarterback playing and the two top wide receivers out with injuries, there isn’t much excitement for the on-field product. Because of this, I’m looking to see how the offensive line controls the line of the scrimmage. The interior defensive line with Sebastian Joseph and Kevin Wilkins is very big and very strong. Meanwhile, the offensive line is replacing 23 of its interior and I can’t wait to see how they have come together and how they plan on running the ball down hill with Robert Martin.