The Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team takes a break from practice with spring break this week. At OTB, we carry on.
This series reviews the state of each positional group in spring practice that runs throughout March into April and concludes with the spring game on April 14.
We continue with the Wide Receivers.
Position coach: Lester Erb
Key players lost: Janarion Grant, Damon Mitchell, Dacoven Bailey
Key players returning: Bo Melton (So.), Everett Wormley (So.), Hunter Hayek (So.), Mo Jabbie (RSo.), Jawuan Harris (RJr.)*
Newcomers: Eddie Lewis (Fr. - early enrollee), four true freshmen in summer
What they did well in 2017: Run block.
When the wide receiver group was most praised for playing defense (Bailey, Harris) and blocking even though you don’t run the triple option, that can only be a bad thing. And yes, Rutgers wide receivers struggled mightily. It got to the point when Mo Jabbie was starting primarily because he was a better blocker than some of the other guys. Yes, it’s good that these guys can block a little bit and Rutgers run game surely can use the help so hopefully it continues in 2018.
Needs Improvement: #1 priority: Make receptions.
Lester Erb who coached the running backs last year slides over to coach the wide receivers. Even though recently he has coached running backs at Nevada and Iowa, he spent more time coaching receivers at Iowa. Erb himself had 902 yards receiving at Bucknell as a junior in 1989, whereas Rutgers wideouts had a TOTAL of 606 receiving yards in 2017 and the top three contributors to that number are gone. Hopefully he can help raise the level of play immediately, even if just a little bit.
Yes we want touchdowns, yes we need big plays, yes players need to get open, but the most simple measure will be if the wide receivers can eclipse the very low standard of 45 receptions in 2017. In a twelve game schedule, they averaged less than four catches per game as a group for the entire season. If the team can gain confidence by completing passes, the yards and touchdowns will follow. Blame the quarterbacks or offensive line for part of the problem, but these guys need to get open and catch the ball when thrown in their direction at a much higher rate.
Changes expected in 2018
Many. A number of players are back, but the team’s top four players at the position at the beginning of spring 2017 have all departed. Grant and Damon Mitchell have graduated, while Dacoven Bailey and Ahmir Mitchell were dismissed from the team. Jawuan Harris had 39 catches for 481 yards himself in 2016, but has baseball commitments. He will likely be an MLB draft pick this summer, leaving his future with the football program uncertain. Even if Harris returns to the banks, perhaps he remains at safety where he made plays almost instantly after he was moved to the defensive side. If Jawuan does return to football and finds himself on offense, he should be extremely focused and motivated to have a monster year.
Erb inherits a group that has a lot of sophomores who got their feet wet in 2017 (H. Hayek, Melton, Jabbie, Wormley) with underwhelming results (183 yards combined). Eddie Lewis spent a year as a grayshirt, but from some reports may be the most natural receiver of the group. Shameen Jones (RFr. 6’1”) and Tyler Hayek (RFr. 6’3”) redshirted in 2017 while their classmates saw the field, but add height to a group that needs whatever advantages they can get. Jalen Jordan, a freshman early enrollee, is somewhere between a wide receiver and tight end who played with Artur Sitkowski at IMG in Florida and may have a role immediately. New offensive coordinator John McNulty likes play action and was able to free up receivers in creative ways during his last stint as OC. Hopefully the same formula works again this time around.
Tommy Wyatt (RSo.) transferred in from Temple as a quarterback last year but moved to wideout. Cole Murphy (RJr.) joined the team last year from Coffeyville Community College after previously being a QB as well. Nyhsere Woodson (RFr.) and Prince Taylor (RSo.) are walk-ons, but like Wyatt and Murphy, will get a look in such a wide open race for playing time.
In addition to all the players listed above that are already in spring practice, four true freshmen arrive in summer. Paul Woods is the only one that is certain to remain a wideout throughout his time on the banks. Zihir Lacewell and Daevon Robinson were more highly ranked by recruiting services at other positions due to their athleticism, but will get a shot at receiver before other options are explored, speaking to the uncertainty of the position. Christian Izien could end up at defensive back, but was a gamebreaker in high school at receiver and as a return man so he might be this year’s Raheem Blackshear.
Way too early predictions
With Harris playing professional baseball, Melton becomes the team’s #1 receiver. Wormley has the size and should be more comfortable and splits time with Mo Jabbie on early downs. Hunter Hayek becomes a specialized slot man who puts his life on the line regularly to make catches over the middle. Either Eddie Lewis, Shameen Jones, or Tyler Hayek becomes a deep threat specialist. Somebody learns how to work well in tandem with tight end Jerome Washington who will be drawing extra attention most of the time. One of the walk-ons find himself in the two-deep. One of the true freshmen finishes top 3 on the team in receptions.
The go to pass play in the red zone will not be a post corner to Hunter Hayek. As much as he’s a good story, being under recruited then playing as a true freshman, Rutgers will come up with a better option than a jump ball to one of it’s smallest players. Jerry Kill was battling his health, inexperienced young receivers, and an overall offensive lack of confidence in 2017. McNulty and Erb benefit by having so many scholarship QBs in spring camp to develop rapport and simply build confidence in completed passes. They should be able to make this unit serviceable by midseason so that by the end of 2019 the receiver group is the most experienced unit on the team.
Previously covered groups