As the second week of training camp is now over, there is still a lot of work left to do before September 1st’s opener at home against #7 Washington. However, things are taking shape with the roster, based on reports the past two weeks, interviews from the coaching staff throughout camp, and observations from Saturday’s scrimmage, both in performance and how the players were utilized. Here are five takeaways on how things seem to be developing and which players are emerging.
Quarterback Situation Becoming Clear
Yesterday at the open practice held during Fan Appreciation Day, Bolin took most of the first team reps. This is pretty consistent from what the beat writers have been reporting in the past week. While he didn’t appear to be the next Joe Montana on the field yesterday, he offers some obvious benefits. Bolin is by far the most experienced of the three quarterbacks, he has been hailed as the most accurate, and he has been praised by head coach Chris Ash for his preparation and quickly becoming a leader on the team. It’s likely that Bolin will be named the starting quarterback soon. With that being said, I think Lewis could be given the opportunity to play at times, perhaps in running situations similarly to how true freshman Tylin Oden was used last season. Expect that offensive coordinator Jerry Kill will be more diverse in his play calling and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t work in a wrinkle or two with Lewis, depending on the opponent. It’s clear he is the quarterback of the future! As for Gio Rescigno, he gives the program a solid backup option if needed and proved his toughness last season.
Running Back Group Is Deep
An exciting development is the talent on the roster at running back. Adding Miami transfer Gus Edwards appears to have been a great move, as it sounds like he is in line to be the featured tailback at the start of the season. However, Robert Martin will certainly have something to say about that and finally practiced without limitations on Saturday. Also yesterday, running back Josh Hicks, who has been working working with the third team at times during training camp, broke off a big 66 yard touchdown run. Raheem Blackshear stood out at yesterday’s scrimmage and might battle his way into the mix. And that doesn’t even included sophomore Trey Sneed, who has gotten work with the first team in Martin’s absence. I really loved the hiring this past offseason of assistant coach Lester Erb. He can mold this group and I think it will pay dividends in a big way for the offense this season.
A Lot Of True Freshmen Will Play
In addition to the possibility of Lewis and Blackshear seeing some action at times this season, there are several other freshmen who could end up in even bigger roles. At Saturday’s scrimmage, a lot of true freshmen saw action with the first or second teams. Bo Melton has a chance to make an immediate impact at wide receiver and special teams. On Saturday, Everett Wormley and Hunter Hayek both received time with the first team due to the Mitchell brothers and Janarion Grant not participating in the scrimmage. Like Melton, they should both have an opportunity to get on the field as wide receivers this season as well. I also expect Brenden DeVera to see time at fullback in Jerry Kill’s offense and Ash has mentioned Travis Vokolek as one of the four tight ends expected to play.
On defense, with depth at linebacker an issue, highly touted freshman Tyshon Fogg, as well as Syhiem Simmons, should have a chance to play early on. Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann spoke positively about them both previously in training camp. And don’t be surprised if Justin Davidovicz becomes the starting kicker.
That’s ten freshman and doesn’t even count who might potentially contribute on special teams, aside from Davidovicz. This type of potential infusion of freshmen speaks well of the recruiting class Ash brought in, but also signals how badly more talent was needed to build depth on the roster. Expect growing pains this season, but also flashes of their potential to be on full display. If several true freshmen can make an impact at all this season, it bodes very well for the future and will give them great experience to build on.
Safeties Will Define How Good Secondary Will Be
It’s no secret that the secondary should be the strength of the defense this season. Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin get well deserved attention at the corner spots and have a chance to be have tremendous years for Rutgers. However, the play of Kiy Hester, Saquan Hampton and Damon Hayes at the safety positions can really elevate the entire secondary unit to elite status this season.
Hester has been a bit inconsistent in his career so far, but he has shown a lot of promise as well. If he can put it all together this season, watch out. He had a monster hit on fellow Miami transfer Jerome Washington in practice on Saturday and can bring a lot of swagger from the back of the defense. Saquan Hampton has steadily improved in his career and should continue to pair well with Hester in the back. Also, Damon Hayes will be a key figure again in the secondary after a solid freshman year. He adds versatility and much needed play making ability in the back. He seems to have a knack of giving the defense a spark at times.
Of course, KJ Gray is another player who learned a lot last season and will have a chance to take a step forward this season. Expect Rutgers to play a lot of nickel packages this season and they have added a lot of experience from last season. Don't sleep on intriguing and often overlooked talent in the safety group.
Punting Will Be Better, Kicking Still A Big Question
Ryan Anderson has a strong leg and showed it off to the fans on Saturday. He can have a big impact in helping improve field position for a team that struggled badly in this area last season. Hopefully, the former Division III All-American punter can be a consistent weapon on special teams this season.
In terms of kickers, both David Bonagura and Justin Davidovicz missed field goal attempts during the scrimmage. While Bonagura was 10 of 14 on field goals last season, he was just 1 of 4 from 40+ yards and long range attempts look to still be an issue. Davidovicz seems to have a stronger leg and will likely handle kick-offs, but he will need to prove he can be reliable on the field and demonstrate consistency with extra point and field goal attempts. Expect the kicking game to be a work in progress, but hopefully one of them can step forward and make some big kicks this season.
For my big picture takeaways on Chris Ash's Rutgers Media Day presser from Sunday, click here.