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Rutgers Football: Newcomers Making Positive Impression So Far

Chris Ash gives his thoughts at the start of the second week of training camp.

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

On Monday, head coach Chris Ash met with the media for the second time during training camp and seemed very focused on the team’s preparation entering their second week of practices. He started by talking about using the new Marco Battaglia practice complex, which was dedicated on Sunday, culminating in a “transformational” moment for the football program.

“It was awesome to be on the new practice fields, but we needed to go out in some elements like we had today. Actually, it was a perfect day for practice. We got a lot of great work in and a lot of great situations, lot of teachable moments for the kids.”

Here are some takeaways on what Ash had to say about the current state of the team.

Quarterback Situation Still Fluid

While it was reported that Kyle Bolin took the majority of first team reps during the one hour of practice that was open to the media, Ash was steadfast in saying nothing has been decided yet.

“Same as it’s been since we started. They’re all getting reps with the 1’s, just like when we started. Really, it’s three guys is all it’s been.”

When asked directly about Bolin, Ash again referred to the group of three quarterbacks, including Gio Rescigno and Johnathan Lewis.

“He’s looked good. He does some good things like all of them. They do some good things, they have some days better than others. I like the way they are all working. It’s still too early. We’ve just finished 1 day and 1 week of camp and just one scrimmage opportunity. There isn’t a whole lot to evaluate when you are going in shorts, but I like the way they are working. They’re learning the offense and executing better and better every day.”

It will be interesting to see where the QB battle stands after another full week of practice.

Gus Edwards Taking Advantage Of Opportunity

The grad transfer from Miami is making an impression early on in camp. When Ash was asked about the informal scrimmage that was held this past Saturday, he singled out Edwards.

“Not much, to be honest with you. Got some special teams work in. We did do some scrimmage, but we didn’t do a whole lot. It was good to see some guys get in live situations. Some guys tackle, some guys break tackles. Gus Edwards really stood out, he is a physical guy at running back. He runs the ball hard and I’m really excited about what I’ve seen from him. Again, its tough to measure a running back until you get into live situations. His first live situation was down by the goal line and he did a nice job.”

With Robert Martin still limited and wearing a green jersey, in addition to reports last week that Josh Hicks was not getting reps with the first team, Edwards is stepping forward in a positive way. The running back rotation will certainly be something to watch for as the season approaches.

The Tight End Position Will Play Important Role In Offense

We already knew that offensive coordinator Jerry Kill planned to use the tight end much more this season. However, Ash confirmed that Myles Nash is not going to be switched back to the defensive side after all and remain at tight end. He was tested out after last week’s season ending injury to Tyreek Maddox-Williams, but the staff prefer Nash on offense. Here is what Ash had to say:

“It’s a position by committee. It’s not that one guy is going to start. Based on personnel grouping, based on the situation, they all have different skill sets. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all starters based on the personnel grouping and the situation.”

In regards to Nash:

“We think his future is best served to be a tight end and best for our football team. We looked at him defensively just for a day to see how he compared to some other guys. It didn’t take long to say his best position would be over on offense, so we moved him back pretty quick.”

It’s obvious that the staff want to have depth at the tight end position, which signals that it will be an important part of the offense. Two tight end sets are something Kill could incorporate and having options is important.

Janarion Grant Is On Track For Season Opener

It was obviously nice to hear that Grant, while being limited in practice, is healthy and on schedule for the season opener against #7 Washington on September 1st. However, it was also encouraging to hear Ash praise Grant for his understanding of the offense, despite having limited reps.

“The thing I love about him. He missed all of spring. He gets out there, we’ve limited his reps, but when he goes, he knows everything he is doing. He has a great football IQ, knows how to line up, doesn’t make any mistakes. For a guy to do that with limited reps is pretty impressive.”

When Ash was asked if he had any concern on Grant being ready for the opener, he answered with a firm “no”.

Right Guard Spot A Three Man Race

Ash was asked about the starting right guard spot on the offensive line and he broke it down that three players are fighting for the job.

“It’s still a battle. It’s just way too early, with all the positions you guys ask about. We just finished practice #6, to make any clear indication as to where we are at with it. Marcus Applefield is back in the mix, Zach Venesky has been over there, Nick Krimin has been over there. They’ve all gotten reps at that position. Marcus is obviously the most experienced guy. He has played the most snaps, but he missed all of spring so he is knocking off some rust. They are battling it out and they are the three guys that have been working there.”

Applefield has been considered the favorite to start, but it will be interesting how this battle progresses throughout training camp.

The Specialists Are Improved

Ash has emphasized the importance of improved special teams play this season, even commenting last week that linebackers need to step up in helping on coverage teams this year. He was directly asked about the kickers and the punters, but again spoke on the importance of coverage, while also giving a positive assessment of the specialists on the roster.

“Based on what I’ve seen in practice, I like where both our kickers and punters are at right now. I’ve mentioned a lot about our special teams ineptness last year, it’s not just the kickers. A lot of it has to do with our coverage people. We have to make sure that are kickers and punters are obviously improved, but our coverage people have to be better. We have to get down the field, we have to get off blocks, we have to eliminate space, we have to make tackles, all of those things. That’s what makes a good kicking game or not, it’s not just the kickers. To go back and answer your question, I feel a lot better about our kicking situation right now, with who is on campus and the competition that has been created. I’m excited about the whole specialists group in general, about the improvements that we’ve made. We need to go out and do it in a game, but through six practices, I really like where we are at.”

The staff have added several new specialists to the roster and it was sorely needed.

I think the biggest takeaway overall is that Ash has infused the roster with an upgrade in talent and personnel, something that was badly needed after last season’s 2-10 campaign. It’s possible that Rutgers will start three grad transfers on offense for the season opener in Kyle Bolin at quarterback, Gus Edwards at running back, and Damon Mitchell at wide receiver. This is an exciting prospect and it’s clear the staff made a point to improve the talent in the specialists room as well, which they have done.

To watch and listen to the entire press conference, video is below.