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Individual impressions from the Rutgers Football spring game

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Lack of playmaking, but plenty to take away.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Rutgers
Josh Hicks was ready to play.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Rutgers spring football practices and spring “game” have now come and gone.

Coaches will preach fundamentals (Aaron summed up the interviews and recap) but I look at the game as I would watching a tryout of some sort. Since we don’t see the full body of work day in and day out, all as fans we can really do is see what jumps out at us about a player: good, bad, or indifferent.

Five guys who improved their stock

  1. Josh Hicks. The strength of Josh’s game is breaking tackles yet he still managed a ton of yards before contact which is super encouraging. Hicks and Martin are ready for action if the season started today.
  2. Manny Taylor. While attempting to focus in on Seymour a few times I was pleasantly surprised to to see Taylor at right tackle not looking bad. Especially in pass protection he was very effective and let me say right now could end up the starter.
  3. Damon Mitchell is a tremendous athlete. His lack of a specific football position skillset may be the only knock on him but this guy is what you think of when the words “power five athlete” are thrown around. He locked up a starting receiver spot even before scoring the game’s only touchdown.
  4. Deonte Roberts looked steady, in line with the praise by the coaches, even Ash who said he is the program’s most improved player. Subtle things like moving TJ Taylor half a step on one play and communicating with the secondary were exactly what we wanted to see and did.
  5. Julius Turner (my white team MVP) gave me flashes back to Ramel Meekins. Earlier this spring Shane Burnham admitted to thinking Turner was a mistake at one point, but he showed a lot of maturity and energy I was looking for Saturday. The highlight of the game was the good battles every play between he and Jonah Jackson. When alongside Ron’dell Carter, they were easily the best on the white team at any spot.

BONUS: Game MVP was Gavin Haggerty? Alan Lucy may be the most underappreciated player in Rutgers last decade with his regular strong snaps, yet still just seeing no doubt 40 yard field goals was crucial for confidence of the program as Cara indicated. Whether or not he ends up the starter, Haggerty’s performance avoided complete embarrassment for a team that was shut out so much in 2016.

Five guys who did not help themselves

  1. Kamaal Seymour. He and Dorian Miller apeared to be asked to do a lot, pulling and blocking linebackers on the outside. The results were disappointing from what I saw. They were not able to block Eric Margolis it seemed, though if there was full contact they may have just pancaked him.
  2. KJ Gray. He seems even bigger and seemingly slower. More than any other player I would have liked to seen him tackle to deliver some punishment, but he struggled to stay with Griffin-Stewart at times. Dacoven Bailey abused him most of the day. Our worries of him as the next Jeremy Deering were compounded today though he did close in run support nicely early in the game.
  3. Charles Snorweah. Rutgers needs him to be change of pace on the perimeter with Martin, Hicks, Sneed, and the true freshmen all being inside runners. He did make one awesome catch to beat Trevor Morris. After burning several students in a halftime sprint, he misjudged more than one punt. It reminded me of 1998 when RU had to put Dante Siciliano back there to simply fair catch since everyone else was dropping balls.
  4. Elorm Lumor. Lumor’s burst looked slow in the plays I saw where he just wasn’t reacting quickly to the snap. On the other hand he showed an ability to occasionally wreak havoc as he definitely has good feet (coordination and balance). He had a golden opportunity with Turay injured, but couldn’t truly capitalize.
  5. T.J. Taylor and Morris. Ok so I cheated with two guys. They have showed enough to be rotational guys at linebacker and special teams warriors. Regardless of what the stats say though, Jay Niemann will not be comfortable both of them starting (even one perhaps).
Rutgers v Minnesota
Gio’s running was neutralized to avoid injuries like this one to his hamstring.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Five guys who trended even

  1. Gio Rescigno. Gio eventually settled in, but lack of 3rd down accuracy and conversions were not encouraging. Of course running and breaking tackles were not part of the game, so his biggest strength was neutralized. Would have liked to see more, especially on easy throws that simply have to be completions. The incompletions were a mixed bag: some drops, some misfires, some that could have been throw away or just miscommunication. His recognition was improved, but still a long way to go.
  2. Dacoven Bailey. He looks like a future weapon, but you can see why despite his elite speed he was not more highly recruited. His route running wasn’t crisp and he dropped a few balls, including muffing two punts. The white defense couldn’t stay with him though as he was always open. Hopefully like Grant did, he can learn to become an effective receiver and another 7-11.
  3. Troy Anthony. He went from 7th (at best) on the depth chart to #2 seemingly overnight. His numbers weren’t great but he looked calm and truthfully I don’t recall a single wide open receiver he missed as the red D was lock down in coverage. Bolin (if he chooses RU) and Lewis on the sidelines will be ahead of him on the depth chart immediately. Would have been nice to see if Nittolo could have done anything different, but I think it would take Doug Flutie to lead the white ‘O’ to a score.
  4. Larry Stevens. It always seems like the play is in his area, is that good or bad? He saved the game for white for a moment with a pass break up but the fact his man was so often targeted makes you wonder. He, as well as Zane Campbell, bring energy and seem to make plays as walk-ons.
  5. Nakia Griffin-Stewart. He was the Stevens of the red team, seemingly everywhere. Some people might really love his performance but he couldn’t pass block at all. I mean his man was just flying right at the quarterback untouched more than once. That said, he had several catches including two more by my count that were nullified due to penalties. He is exactly the type of player that Kill will start out in situations he can handle and hopefully will grow into a 3 down TE. Short term he might not be an upgrade, but the usage of him at TE may be immediate improvement for the nation’s worst offense. Long-term he has Tyler Kroft potential.

Not sure what to make of

  1. Rashad Blunt. He looks like a player physically a la Carlton Agudosi. It seems his arms are so long that he should be able to keep jamming coverage off his body which he was able to do today against Kobe Marfo (really a slot corner) but didn’t have a ton of catches. He had plenty of opportunity, but didn’t blow you away despite reliable hands. A better performance and he may have gotten some breathing room from all the guys who didn’t play including incoming freshmen.
  2. Right Guard. Venesky can move well and looked good in space but was overpowered at times in a phone booth. It’s obvious he would be a good wrestler. Zach Heeman was the total opposite, completely stonewalling shorter defensive linemen but not able to drive them back either. Nick Krimin played for the white and looked a lot like Heeman. Marcus Applefield the presumed leader in the position battle did not play so it will be curious to see how the staff evaluates the situation.
  3. Solomon Manning. After a position switch to take advantage of his athleticism on the outside, he didn’t wow anybody in his second spring. On the other hand he seemed to avoid getting driven back and locked up as the ball never seemed to be in his area, so perhaps he would have been able to explode for TFL or big hits. Still a lot to learn about what he can do.
  4. Brandon Russell. I would have liked to see first team reps. Russell showed tremendous leadership in white as did Eric Margolis. They completely shut down the first team offense initially. Brandon also should get some credit for Rashawn Battle’s improvement. Battle showed inexperience at first but got better over the course of the game and you could see the encouragement and confidence coming from his fellow white position mates.
  5. Myles Nash. He got more comfortable as well, hauling in two passes, but i think both times the defense was willing to surrender a catch as long as they kept him short on 3rd down. He definitely is big and athletic so there should be a spot for him sneaking out in goal line type play action. His initial pop looked good, but he can still improve on his chip blocks. He seems to have the size to block in the B1G.

Early enrollees

Micah Clark. New contributor Brian Dunshee was most interested to see Clark but had to be disappointed. Micah played mostly right tackle where he struggled blocking bigger guys (especially Bateky a few times), blew a few assignments, and was beaten simply due to poor footwork at least once (by Lumor I think). He didn’t look confident and appeared to be overly focused on technique resulting in “playing slow”. Of course he still has unlimited potential and linemen take time to develop but there is no way he could play meaningful snaps on the offensive line right now. He’s not Anthony Davis.

Sam Vretman. He moved better than I expected despite playing left tackle and having been told by Mike Voza how good his kick slide is. In the run game though he did not get low enough to drive defenders back with his powerful frame, but I’ll let Mike truly assess him at some point. Not playing “live” probably hurt him.

Jamaal Beaty. Beaty looked good to me though the majority of snaps I noticed he was at left guard double teaming or blocking down (the easiest block to make). He continues to be unheralded yet steady and likely should be starting on special teams, especially field goal formation. Like the first team guards, he did not have much success blocking at the second level though.

Brandon Bordner wore down at defensive end like Clark did on the other side of the ball. Bordner seemed to “get it” mentally as the game progressed but looked tired. He has put on a ton of weight and that seemed to hamper the motor we saw from him in high school. I’m worried he gets lost like Jimmy Hogan, who didn’t make an impact inside or outside. Wow Bordner has long arms though.

Random observations

  1. First team guys who physically had no challenge: Joseph, Cole, Austin, Wharton, Hayes, Hampton, aforementioned Damon Mitchell. In that way it reminded me of the late 90s as Jim Hoffman indicated. Rutgers just has no depth to really challenge these guys. Two years ago in the spring game Turay was unblockable so it made sense to keep him in street clothes today healthy against even more inexperienced white teamers. Kiy Hester looks slim and healthy. Hester and Hampton checked all the boxes on their alignment, assignment, and technique it seemed.
  2. Non-starters who look like Power 5 “football players”: Nash, Douglas, Wiafe, Lumor, and Trey Sneed. Sneed looks like the next Robert Martin. They need more of these, like dozens more to fill out the two-deep. Kevin Wilkins did not play. Michael Maietti looks small but he did nice job at center, though Sam Howson had been listed as the backup center on the two-deep. The only unit with any depth is the front seven on defense, though all the reserves are simply stopgaps, only Lumor a likely situational playmaker.
  3. Notable walk ons. Prince Taylor may be able to contribute. Jim Onulak sealed the edge a few times. McDerby Ceneus showed some shiftiness the way Snorweah needs to. Jelani Garvin saw a ton of action in the slot but was not targeted as much as he probably should have been on slants and quick outs. Jason Griggs ate up a ton of space.
  4. Injury/DNP update: Turay, Applefield, Grant, Ahmir Mitchell, Zach Allen, Wilkins, Jerome Washington, Tyreek Maddox-Williams, Bonagura. Harris had a baseball game.
  5. Play calling. Laterals have to go, Gio is simply not accurate enough to not scare you with turnovers. Hard to truly judge the inside run game as small holes could be enough for Hicks and Martin to break through. I think Kill will figure out how to use the versatility of Grant, Mitchell, and Bailey though he didn’t open it up today. And thank goodness we can actually run short yardage plays from under center!

Overall, no major injuries have been reported which was the number one goal. The offense was not clicking, but actually looked functional for stretches despite lacking playmakers. Gio completed some gimme passes that no RU QB did a year ago, especially to Griffin-Stewart but has to improve accuracy to open up the field a little bit. Otherwise it will be on his scrambling to have the same effect. The defense looked solid, but not elite enough to overcome an anemic offense yet again.

Despite the lack of production and a few driving killing penalties, I saw a lot of positives individually which makes me feel better about 2017 than I did at the final horn at Maryland in the 2016 season finale.