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Rutgers Football: Backup Quarterback Is The Real Battle

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With Kyle Bolin named the starter, the question now is who will be the #2?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday night, after the first practice of the start of the fourth week of training camp, head coach Chris Ash made the announcement that seemed inevitable for awhile now. Louisville grad transfer and newly appointed team captain, Kyle Bolin, was named the starting quarterback. After taking the majority of the first team reps the past couple of weeks, it seemed pretty clear Bolin would be the choice. Aside from having the most experience of the three quarterbacks in competition for the starting job, Bolin’s key attribute is his accuracy. Rutgers needs the player under center to execute and Bolin showcased strong fundamentals in workouts even before camp began. Picking him to lead the Rutgers offense this season was the easy choice for Ash and offensive coordinator Jerry Kill.

Now comes the hard part, in terms of determining who will backup Bolin this season. Ash spoke after practice Monday night about the position and had this to say:

“All three guys have done a great job through training camp. The backup right now is still undecided. Both Gio and Johnathan will potentially have an opportunity to play, depending on the situation. Right now, moving forward, Kyle will be our starting quarterback.”

While it has to be tough for Rescigno, who performed admirably as the starter the second half of last season, after entering training camp in 2016 as the fourth quarterback, Ash confirmed that he is taking the news as best he can:

“Gio has been great. Gio is a team guy. He’s a competitor. He’s battling. He knows how many quarterbacks we used last year, for whatever reason. And Gio is going to do everything he can to support Kyle. He’s going to do whatever he can to get better. He’s going to be ready if his number is called.”

Between Gio and Johnathan Lewis, the intriguing freshman who is a true dual threat, it’s Rescigno that offers stability in having game experience and being more seasoned entering his fourth year of college football. However, the upside of Lewis and his potential as the future leader of the program is undeniable. Ash spoke about what type of role Lewis may have this season:

“Yeah, right now that is yet to be determined. We’re having those conversations about what Johnathan Lewis’ role will be in our offense. Johnathan is going to be an outstanding quarterback here. He’s done a lot of great things in training camp. He is still learning, he got here on campus in July. It’s really hard for a quarterback to learn everything he is going to need to know to play major college football in basically a month and a half like Johnathan has tried to do. He has done some great things and here over the next couple of weeks we will decide what type of role that will be.”

Ash was asked how he will determine who will be the backup for Bolin and was straightforward in his response:

“It’s between those two guys. We talked about the same thing about what separates a starter and a backup. Same thing, who understands the offense, who is dependable, who will go out there and execute, take care of the ball, make good decisions. That will decide who the #2 is.”

The truth is while Bolin is the clear choice to lead the program this season and gives the team the best chance to win right now, how Ash and Kill handle the backup situation with Gio and Lewis is critical as well, both in the short term and long term. As is the reality with college football, as Ash said in his presser, often times multiple quarterbacks are needed throughout the season. In fact, for Rutgers, other than Gary Nova’s impressive 2014 season, the program hasn’t experienced true stability at the most important position since the days of Mike Teel a decade ago.

Ash and Kill are weighing their contingency plans now, while also keeping an eye on the future. It’s an interesting situation and here are some aspects to consider.

Gio is a more reliable option right now, based on his experience, in regards to replacing Bolin during game action for an extended period of time. Lewis offers potential for the offense to throw a curve ball at opposing defenses and give a different look within games right away, with Bolin still in the role of starting quarterback. It’s been hinted that Gio could be that change up option as well, as he did flash his ability to run well at times last season.

The other aspect that Ash and Kill must consider is the long term development of Lewis. Can he help this season or does it make more sense to redshirt him? He is physically ready and seems very mature for a true freshman. What he needs most now is polish, which should come with time and experience. It’s obvious that Lewis has the higher ceiling long term and he has two more seasons of eligibility than Rescigno does. With Bolin in his last year of eligibility, the job will be between Lewis and Rescigno next season. The handling of these two quarterbacks will be of major importance, both this season and beyond.

In my opinion, here is what makes the most sense this season. Gio demonstrated he could make difficult throws at times and proved how tough he is after taking a beating behind the offensive line in 2016. In the short term, he seems to be the best option as the true backup to Bolin. However, it would be great to see Lewis given some opportunity to get his feet wet and be used as a running option right away this season, potentially giving the offense another weapon.

Another thing to consider is that Rutgers has a bye in the first week of October. They’ll have five games behind them at that point and will be gearing up for the stretch run of the season. Perhaps Lewis will have shown enough at that point that during the bye week, the staff will shift gears and Lewis would be the first option moving forward if a backup quarterback is needed for an extended period. Heck, that might be their decision anyway before the season even starts. Gio is certainly going to fight for playing time and the competition between the two is beneficial for both their own development, as well as for the depth at the position.

Either way, there are a lot of reasons to feel good about the quarterback position for Rutgers football. Bolin makes the most sense to start and whoever the staff chooses to back him up, whether it be Gio or Lewis, both would bring positives with them on the field. How Ash and Kill handle all three quarterbacks this season will be an interesting storyline to watch and will be vital to the success of the team. And to eliminate any doubt of the idea of a week to week competition, this is how Ash responded directly to that question:

“Kyle is our starting quarterback, that’s it.”

Who ultimately backs up Bolin is the real question. How it is answered remains to be seen. The good news is for the first time in recent history, Rutgers seems to have three legitimate options at the most important position on the team.