While head coach Chris Ash has made it known that many freshmen will have the opportunity to play this season, there is a good chance that the wide receiver position will be the one where those newcomers make the biggest impact. Wide receivers coach Jafar Williams met with the media after Tuesday’s practice and seemed excited about his group of players. He started his press conference with an optimistic tone:
“We have an opportunity to be a lot more consistent than we were last year. Obviously, we are a little more explosive, which is probably the most noticeable thing. Once everyone is healthy and have everybody on the field at the same time, I think we will have a solid unit.”
Not surprisingly, the first player Williams was asked about was dynamic playmaker, Janarion Grant. When asked what he hopes he can bring to the team this season, Williams was blunt in his expectations for Grant:
“Everything, I hope (laugh). We’re planning on him being the guy he was and even better than he was before he got hurt. He’s been looking good on the field. He’s knocking off a little bit of rust and we’ve had to monitor his reps a little bit throughout camp to make sure we can get him to gameday and make sure he is healthy.”
Williams was asked how Grant is progressing through camp and whether or not he is on schedule:
“That’s the plan, to gradually get him through practice to get him game ready. With Janarion, he is the type of guy you have to hold back, because he wants to do more. But we have to be smart with him and the training staff does a great job.”
The 2017 recruiting class included five receivers and many of them are making a very positive impression on Williams and the team.
“I’m impressed with all of those guys, to be honest. You look at Hunter (Hayek), he just goes out there and makes a lot of plays. The mental part of the game he has been able to grasp pretty well and that is unusual for a freshman. You look at a guy like (Everett) Wormley, who physically came in from day one and is able to compete. Then obviously, Bo (Melton) has a really good feel for the position and is making plays. Really those three guys stand out, but I’m happy with all of our freshmen.”
He spoke about the importance of the freshmen getting reps during training camp in helping to translate what they see and discuss in the team meeting room.:
“With all of our freshmen, if you aren’t taking a lot of reps, it makes it hard to go out there and execute your assignment. With freshmen a lot of times, you can go over stuff in the meeting room, but they need to go out there and get the reps.
Williams was asked if Melton, Hayek, and Wormley could potentially see the field at the same time during a game and he stressed that class year is irrelevant”
“Right now we are planning on whoever the best players are, then we will put them on the field and whether that is freshmen, seniors, or sophomores, it doesn’t matter. Throughout camp I wanted to put them on the field with the one group, because guess what, when we line up against Washington, we need them to play and they’ve got to play against their best players. And I think the room of our corners and secondary is pretty good, so if they can play and compete against those guys, we can do it when it is game day.”
On the status of Ahmir Mitchell, the former 4-star recruit and Michigan transfer, nothing new regarding his timeline for return was mentioned. However, Williams gave good insight on how Mitchell is doing in learning the offense and mentally preparing during his recovering from injury:
“I don’t know when he is expected back, it’s really for the training staff to decide. He’s been great. Ahmir is an energetic and very passionate person. He is passionate about the game of football. The good news is that he is in our meetings and paying attention. He’s engaged. I want to get him back and make sure he’ll be ready to go.”
And as you already knew, mother’s always know best, as Williams confirmed about Mitchell’s mom’s prediction after the injury:
“His mother said something about that when he got hurt, she said “my boy is a fast healer” and she was right. A couple months after surgery, they said he was out there, trying to run around. Yeah, he has come back pretty fast, so hopefully we can get him back early in the season.”
A major issue last season, despite having two former receivers on NFL rosters right now, Andre Patton and Carlton Agudosi, was that the Rutgers wideouts struggled in gaining separation from their defenders. Williams praised the newcomers and stressed that the group as a whole has a chance to be more explosive this season:
“Good and I think a lot of that is just natural talent. Especially for the young guys right now. When those guys during the summer, they got all of these numbers back from the strength staff and it basically said they were more explosive than guys we’ve had in the past. They were good players, but we have a lot more explosive players and that was the focus in that recruiting class, which was that we need to bring some more guys in here with a little bit more speed and quickness. That helps that part. The technique part of it is going to take time.”
Williams was asked the benefits for his players in now knowing that Kyle Bolin will be the starting quarterback:
“Yes, I do think so. I said before it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, but right now, as you get closer to games, you do want to have some type of relationship with the receivers and quarterbacks. Some type of consistency, rotation, I think that helps. They are hearing it from one guy, they get used to how he throws the ball, where he throws them open, those things.”
One big takeaway is the positive influence that new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill is having on the offensive assistants. Williams praised Kill for his experience and past success. He explained that it’s helped more than just the head coach as well:
“Coach Ash is always hard on us (laugh), but it’s a good thing because he likes to work. If you asked a difference, it’s probably I’m sure he can lean on Jerry and his experience. That’s the biggest benefit for us as an offensive staff is we really have a head coach in our room. I think that is great for us and obviously I’ve learned a lot from Jerry. We can all learn a lot from Jerry. He’s done it at a high level and he’s done it multiple times. I’m sure coach Ash can lean on him and doesn’t feel like he has to do everything.”
The wide receivers this season give real hope that the Rutgers offense will be much improved in 2017. For a breakdown on each receiver, click here for our positional preview on this group. With Janarion Grant returning, the arrival of Arkansas grad transfer Damon Mitchell, and the potential impact of the true freshmen, there is a chance that the pass offense could be a real strength this season. If Ahmir Mitchell does return before too long and Jawuan Harris can get going, the options seem almost endless for Kill and Bolin to utilize on the field in the passing game. That is certainly an exciting prospect for Rutgers fans heading into this season.