The Rutgers offense is vastly different from last season for many reasons. New coordinator Jerry Kill has incorporated a more flexible, personnel specific approach to the offense, rather than the rigid, spread system from a year ago. Six true freshman are listed on the two deep, as well as three graduate transfers that are starting at quarterback (Kyle Bolin), running back (Gus Edwards, and wide receiver (Damon Mitchell).
While the sample size is just one game, the offense did look improved last weekend against one of the best defenses in the country from 2016 in the Washington Huskies. With the return of Janarion Grant, better than expected line play, and more composure exhibited by the unit overall, there is legitimate hope the offense will be much better than last season. However, there is one player above all others that excites me the most regarding the potential for the offense in 2017.
Truth be told, I’ve been excited about redshirt junior Jerome Washington being in a Rutgers uniform since it was reported he was joining the program in May of 2016. While he produced just 1 reception for 9 yards, while playing mostly on special teams during his one season at Miami, Washington was previously rated a 4-star JUCO recruit by several recruiting services. It was obvious that there was potential with the 6’4”, 258 pound tight end and that it was just a matter of finding the right fit for him to maximize his ability.
In the season opener against the Huskies, Jerome Washington led the offense with 6 receptions and was third with 36 receiving yards. While those aren’t gaudy statistics by any stretch, his big frame and sure hands made a positive impression in the game. The staff even named him player of the week for the offense.
In addition, during Kill’s press conference this week in preparation for Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan, the first player he mentioned was Washington.
“Jerome, our tight end, is going to be a great player", Kill said. “Now we know how to use him a bit more. We didn’t know that going in.”
Rutgers has a history of having some very good tight ends through the years, including L.J. Smith, Clark Harris, Tyler Kroft, and one of the best players to ever play in the program, Marco Battaglia, who I recently featured here.
The last tight end to lead the offense in receptions and receiving yards for a season was Kroft, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, when he caught 43 passes for 573 yards in 2013. In the past two years before this current campaign, no tight end produced more than 14 receptions for an entire season.
Washington caught almost half that many in his Rutgers debut. He has the chance to become a real difference maker for the offense this season. His ability to become a safety net for Bolin, to be effective in moving the chains with 5-10 yard receptions, and his potential for making big plays in the middle of the field could make him a major weapon for the Rutgers offense moving forward.
Another positive aspect in having Washington is that he gives the Scarlet Knights a physically imposing presence on the field. Someone that Big Ten defenses will take notice of when looking over at the Rutgers huddle in the middle of games. Film study and game planning is one thing, but going eye to eye with Washington and having to make a tackle on him is a different element altogether. He has the ability to punish defenders that do try and take him down. It’s likely the majority of the catches he makes this season, it will take multiple players to tackle him. Having a big, bruising player like Washington can help breed confidence within his teammates.
Kill admitted he is still learning how to best utilize Washington within the offense. There is little doubt that Kill will make his big tight end a major priority moving forward. With the position an afterthought under previous OC Drew Mehringer last season, it could end up producing the leading receiver on offense this year. Kill is too wise and experienced to let a talent like Washington go to waste. How he performs this weekend and the rest of the season remains to be seen, but the possibilities are certainly exciting. Jerome Washington has the potential to give the Rutgers offense something they haven't had in sometime...an identity.
For additional thoughts and updates on the offense from Jerry Kill, click on the video below.