With the Scarlet-White game just over two weeks away, which concludes Spring camp, head coach Chris Ash met with the media for the third time this month to discuss the state of things. He got very specific on certain positions and players. Here are some key points that Ash made on Thursday afternoon.
“There’s some guys that are maybe starting to pull away from the pack a little bit but it’s going to be an ongoing competition all the way into training camp and probably in the middle of training camp. Gio had a good scrimmage. Artur had a good scrimmage. Johnathan Lewis had a good scrimmage. Not that the other guys were bad. But those guys made some throws, did some things that were a little bit better. So they’re pulling away a little bit.’’
When asked about if a starter would be named at the end of Spring camp, Ash was succinct in saying, “no chance”. He continued:
“We are so far away from consistently taking a snap, let alone talk about who is going to start. We have a long way to go. We have so much to do. We’re making a lot of progress. Really happy with the group overall. When you look at last year, Gio was basically the lone soldier here in spring practice. We’ve got a much more competitive room. We’ve got playmakers in the room and competition. The chemistry is great. They’re getting better but we’ve got so far to go before we even start thinking about making a decision on who is going to be a starter in September. So there will be no chance that a starter will be named after spring.’’
AB’s Take: It makes sense for Ash not to name a starter at the end of spring. First off, there are more options at the position than the program has had since Ash took over. A new offense is being implemented yet again, so giving everyone time to learn the playbook even more so after spring camp is important. Artur Sitkowski has been praised all spring and has made a strong impression. If he does have the lead on starting next fall, it would make sense to limit the amount of pressure that is put on him from April to August, as he prepares for training camp. The other benefit is that it continues to give Gio and Lewis an opportunity to continue to get better and motivate them to come into training camp fighting for a job. Four months is a long time and even though there won’t be any formal practices, why not give all three frontrunners at the position a chance to keep improving and let the real competition begin at training camp?
Wide Receiver Position
“I’ve mentioned before, It’s probably one of the pleasant surprises of spring training, the wide receiver group. They’ve worked hard, they’ve improved fundamentally, they’ve improved their football IQ. Fewer mistakes, more plays being made. The chemistry in the room is great, the relationship with their coach is great. I’m really pleased with that room.”
“It’s kind of like the quarterbacks, as we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re probably making more plays in the spring than what we’ve made in the previous two years. Progress is being made.”
Ash was specifically asked about Eddie Lewis and Bo Melton, who appear to be in the lead in terms of potential to be the top two playmakers at wide receiver next season.
On Eddie Lewis
“The thing I’ve seen the most out of him is maturity. Going to prep school he learned more about football, he learned about handling his business. being a good teammate. I like Eddie and he is doing a great job right now. He has a lot of talent, good ball skills. He is still learning what we want him to do at the wide receiver position, but he is a great addition to our team and hopefully be a really good playmaker for us on game day as we go through the season.”
On Bo Melton
“Like the QB position, I’m not saying there is a # 1 guy, but Bo Melton is having an outstanding spring. He’s had a good offseason. There are a lot of things on a freshman that’s playing, but he’s learned to handle it. He understands what to expect, he understands how to handle his business. He’s really matured. When he shows up to football, he can focus on football and not be distracted from a lot of other things. I really like where Bo is at.”
AB’s Take: The most important thing Ash said was how more plays have been made this spring at the wide receiver position than the past two years. Melton and Lewis could flourish in McNulty’s offense and give Rutgers big play ability that has been sorely lacking in recent seasons. No matter who ultimately starts at quarterback, they’ll need targets to make plays and it seems things are trending in the right direction. Honestly, this group has nowhere to go but up after last season.
On The Tight End Position
“Travis Vokolek is a guy that has flashed quite a bit here this spring. He has really good hands in the pass game. Learning how to block still. He is a willing blocker, is a tough kid. Just has to continue to get strong and fill his body out. Two years ago the kid was a high school DB. Now we have him in there trying to block defenseive ends. He has come a long way. Really excited about him and when we get Jerome back, I think those two will be a pretty good tandem.”
AB’s Take: It’s great to hear that Vokolek is developing and from what offensive coordinator John McNulty has said this spring, it sounds like he is planning to utilize two tight end fronts at times on offense. Jerome Washington is recovering from offseason surgery, but it’s exciting to consider the impact he can make in the passing game next season under McNulty’s direction. If Vokolek can be a reliable option as well, it gives the offense even more versatility.
On The Placekicker
“Justin Davidovicz is our guy right now. He’s been the most consistent, has a strong leg. Obviously he played last year, handled the kickoffs for us. Practiced place kicking last year. He’s the guy that is doing it right now.”
AB’s Take: It seemed obvious Davidovicz was being groomed for the lead role this season and it’s positive to hear he has assumed control at the position. He could be the guy at kicker for the next three seasons and he certainly impressed with kickoffs last season. Stability at this position would be a major plus for the program.
On The Offensive Line
“Long way to go on the offensive line. We are mixing and matching right now, different combinations of guys. That unit overall has to come together. We have improved the last couple of practices. We want to be very strong at the line of scrimmage for our offense to go.”
AB’s Take: This position group has been my biggest concern for multiple seasons and it’s no different right now. As deficient as Rutgers was on offense last season, the line play was a big part of why, despite an absence of playmakers on that side of the ball. Tariq Cole has a chance to be special, as does Micah Clark, who Ash spoke highly of during the presser as well. Consistency and finding a solid five that can work together is the key. This position group is so crucial to the offense taking at least a step or two forward next season, which is a must for Rutgers to have any chance at improving on their 4-8 record from 2017.
Ash touched on several more topics and to see his full presser, watch below. It has been notable to watch Ash address the media this spring, as he appears more relaxed and confident in the direction the program is moving. You can tell he feels like they have a real team now and while major development of personnel is needed, it’s a positive that he and the coaching staff can just focus on that. Distractions appear to be at an all-time low since his arrival and Ash continues to grow into the position in a positive way. This is exactly where the program needed to be in year three and things are trending up for Rutgers football. Still, there is a long way to go, but there should be more excitement for the upcoming season than in some time on the banks.