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Rutgers Football OC Jerry Kill isn’t afraid to start freshmen...even at QB

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Boy, I really hope he sticks around for a while because I like this guy!

Minnesota v Wisconsin Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Offensive Coordinator Jerry Kill addressed the media after the first day of practice on Monday. And if I didn’t think he was great for the job before, I do now.

For some reason, football coaches should have a southern drawl (not too thick) or a midwestern twang. And the Kansas-born Kill spoke with the press in that twang. But he also spoke like a man who has been there before, a coach comfortable in his own skin, and confident in what he brings to the table.

For ten minutes, the assembled media asked questions and Kill addressed each one in turn. Very little coach-speak and a frankness that was, to a degree, refreshing to hear from a coach in the metropolitan area.

The quarterback situation, to no one’s surprise, took up a few questions. For those hoping to see true freshman Johnathan Lewis play, don’t rule it out. But don’t count on it either. Said Kill, “I really don’t worry about it too much. Always just put the best player on the field. I started a redshirt freshman, but I’m not afraid to start a freshman if he’s the best player. Been practicing three days, I couldn’t tell you who’s best. I can only tell you they’ve all done a good job and practice well. It’s gonna be a tough decision of who we pick. And that’s better than having no decision of who to pick.”

And the competition for the job is, in a way, a pleasant job for Kill. He’s been impressed with the QB’s and their efforts. “I think the biggest thing {about the quarterbacks] I’ve got a good room. Room of smart guys, guys who want to learn. Have a lot of fun but we work hard. They’re willing to put in the work it takes to play quarterback. They’re smart and it’s been a joy to work with them because they love football (tiny smile). Any time you get to work with people who love football it makes it easier to coach. They’ve been very coachable, on and off the field.” And while not intentional, he took a shot at the state of affairs left by the previous regime and the few players left behind. “When I showed up [in the spring] it was definitely different trying to practice with the quarterback depth that we had [two]; it was pretty unique for college football.”

And when will a QB1 arise? As I said, he’s been there before and he knows how these things happen. What that means for Rutgers, though, is still up in the air. “I think the ideal is to do it [choose a starting quarterback] earlier rather than right up before the game simply because your football team knows who that guy is going to be. All these coaches say it’s going to be a last minute decision, but I’m not so high up on that if I can make a decision. But sometimes you can’t make one til the last week according to what you’re doing. But if you had your wishes you’d like to do it earlier so the team knows. We’ll just have to see how that all plays out.” Sounds like an open competition.

Questions arose about his philosophy on offense, particularly the use of tight ends and running backs. It was clear that he wants to get the TE position in the flow of the game. “Our tight ends coach Vince [Okruch] said they caught more balls yesterday (in practice) than they did all last season. I guess we must be making a little progress.” He had a little grin as he went on. “Tight ends will be a part of the offense. You look at the NFL, you look at any level, tight ends and backs are catching a lot of footballs.” Then I smiled.

As for the running backs, he went back to a key point: get the best guys on the field, no matter what it takes. “At Minnesota I started two freshmen and we played both those freshmen. And we had a bigger back we played. I had Brandon Jacobs in the backfield one year and we had two other guys who could play so we played all three of them.” But how does that translate to play-calling and scheme? “I think we’ll do what the talent allows us to do. I think you gotta have a third down back for mismatches and things like that. I think we got some talented guys in that position. You’re always going to have one banged up or so you better have some depth. I think we feel real good about that position at this point.”

And, of course, Janarion Grant came up. Kill knows who he is and what he means to Rutgers. And how challenging it will still be to get him going. “I certainly know how athletically he is, how dynamic of a player he is, but he still sat out a long time. We gotta get him back in there, back in the flow of things. And he’ll have to play a key role in what we do to be successful. You give the best players the ball and let them go to work.”

Kill has been through what Chris Ash and Rutgers are going through now: picking up the pieces of a tattered program and building it. He knows the routine and he’s ready to work with Ash to make it happen. “At Southern Illinois we were, I think, 1-11, then we won four, then we went five straight years winning 10 or more. When we were at Northern [Illinois] inherited a 1-10 program and we showed progress. Then the third year at Minnesota we showed progress, but the second year we got better. I don’t know what that means in wins and losses, but I can tell you this: I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think we could win.”

Kill has complete faith in Ash. He says the two have the same mindset and he believes in what Ash is doing. “Coming in here, laying the groundwork, the discipline. Holding people accountable. Hiring good people. Getting academics in the right direction. The weight coach, I mean Coach Parker is one of the best in America. You better have a dang good strength coach, you better be dang good in academics and you gotta build facilities. Because that attracts good players; and I’ve never known any coaches who win any games but I have known players to win a lot of them.” Like I said, football coaches need that drawl or twang. And you gotta say “dang”.

As for the past, Jerry Kill couldn’t care less. He has a focus, and that’s to develop a team and follow the boss into the fire. “I’m excited about what he’s [Ash] doing and being a part of it. There are no guarantees. I wasn’t here last year and I don’t care what happened last year. I care about what happens this year. I look for us to be better and I think we have to show progress in the program. I think people expect that and, to me, we’ve made tremendous progress from spring. There’s no question we’re making progress.”