Rutgers football completed their thirteenth Spring Football practice on Thursday. Coach Ash was very tactful, yet straightforward for the fifth straight week. Watch the full conference here or below.
The spring game marks an end to spring football this Saturday, April 14. With roughly five months to go before the opening kickoff of the first game against Texas State, so much can change. Nothing that happens or is said should be taken TOO seriously. However, it’s our job to relay facts and offer our best attempt at reading between the lines. Here’s the five biggest takeaways from listening to the press conference.
“We’re way ahead of where we we’ve been the last two springs.”
The two-part question “How far along are you?” and “how comfortable are you with where you are?” was the first from the media considering the third offensive coordinator in Ash’s three seasons at the helm. Ash answered confidently, “We’re way ahead.” He mentioned having a “full team”, “all the receivers running around”, and last year having “one scholarship quarterback.”
Dave’s take: It wasn’t necessarily what Ash said on this one, but how he said it. During his intro before the questions even started Coach talked about how each year is a new team with so many new players and coaches, so I expected a basic coachspeak response. Instead we got what may have been the most affirmative answer I have ever seen from Ash on any topic. This set the tone for the entire rest of the conversation. Ash is always pretty frank, not hiding emotion, and he doesn’t say things affirmatively, really ever, unless he is certain. It may be conjecture, but when he walks into a recruit’s home, he’s probably not making promises he can’t keep. That’s probably a reason we have seen so few defections compared to prior years.
“Every year you want to build depth” and “There’s not a lot of positions that have been solidified.”
These snippets came from answers to two different questions. Early in the press conference a question came up about Ash’s feelings on the team’s depth. He responded, “if you talk to every coach in America ... especially in spring ... I doubt anyone says they have the depth they want.” “O-Line and D-Line are the biggest concerns. Depth in those two spots.” I feel good about the guys we can put out there; the starting five offensive linemen and the starting defensive line, but it’s the depth that we need to work really, really hard between now and September to develop.”
Later in the press conference Ash was asked outside of quarterback and positions that are openly discussed as still up for grabs, what positions have been solidified. Ash responded, “What have we won, six games the last two years? There’s not a lot of positions that have been solidified. I’m not trying to make light of your question, but that’s really where we are at. We need guys to compete for guys to get better. We need guys to compete to take someone else’s job.” “I mentioned Tariq Cole ... Jon Bateky is going to be our starting defensive tackle, that’s not going to change.” “To say some of the spots that were up for grabs have been solidified, no they have not.”
Dave’s take: This was notable because before he answered the first one, Ash let out a belly-laugh similar to one Greg Schiano had on the Ohio State sideline last fall. His answers were encouraging to hear because as confident as Ash is that the team (especially the offense) is way ahead of where they have been the last two years, he still knows there is a ways to go. Some Rutgers coaches in a variety of sports the last few years (take your pick) annoyed the fan base by always sounding like the team was so close to significant success when clearly they were not.
For the question later in the press conference, why should any position really be solidified at this point? I’m actually glad they aren’t.
Here is my latest piece on Rutgers lineman Micah Clark. https://t.co/rU56KfRxhT— Cheikh N'Diaye (@cheikh_yourself) March 27, 2018
“Micah’s missed some spring practice because of off-season things he needs to do.”
The question sounded innocent, “Speaking of offensive line, how has a guy like Micah Clark developed?” Ash provided some insight that only insiders at practice day in and day out may be aware of, “Micah’s done a good job. Micah’s missed some practice because of some off the field things he needs to take care of but Micah’s had a good offseason.” Later, “Micah will be in the mix at one of the spots.”
Dave’s take: First off, how did the media not jump on this with a follow up? At first listen I had a nightmare flash back to the Nadir Barnwell situation which progressively got worse and worse under the Julie Hermann / Kyle Flood regime culminating in his dismissal from the program for a reason other than academics. But then the more I thought about it, the less of a big deal this should be. I remembered back to my college spring football experience and several guys on the team had classes they had to take in the spring either because it conflicted with fall football, or the course was simply only offered in spring. That wasn’t a story in the school paper. Maybe Micah has a family situation, maybe he missed two practices because his dorm was flooded ruining his belongings, maybe he simply needs to focus on a particular academic program requirement. It could be any number of things, none of which I should even know about, all of which are better to be happening in spring when no games are played than in the fall. Before modern media and social media, no one would have even known. Joe Montana probably missed a few spring practices at Notre Dame back in the day and he turned out fine.
So I have no real knowledge on why Micah Clark, one of the biggest recruits in recent memory, missed time in spring practice. And I shouldn’t, it’s not my business. I do have confidence that this coaching staff knows what they are doing though and is handling whatever the situation is better than the previous regime.
“Spring games are set up a lot of different ways and I just wanted to do something different.”
The question came about why Ash decided to change the scoring system for the spring game. “I’ve never done it, but I’ve kept some notes on how other people do spring games.”
Dave’s take: This may have seemed subtle, but it really makes me happy. I know it’s only a spring game, but I’m glad Coach Ash is willing to think about doing things differently. To succeed in the Big Ten when you don’t have a bunch of little buckeye stickers on your helmets requires a coaching staff be willing to take chances. That being said, Ash didn’t just jump into his first spring game in 2016 with this approach. He did things the more conventional way and then at some point decided to change it up which indicates the flexible thinking required to a be a successful football coach these days.
James Kratch on nj.com had a nice breakdown of the scoring system for the event.
“What kind of role Max [Anthony] has in our offense is yet to be determined.”
Ash was asked, “what have you seen from Max Anthony?” He replied, “Max is an intelligent guy, knows his assignments.” “Plays the game hard.” “We’re asking him to do a lot of different things because he can and lack of depth.”
Dave’s take: I liked the question even before hearing the answer. Many of our younger readers probably play Madden for example, while our more experienced readers have coached or managed people. Once in a while you can go into a game or situation and simply overwhelm an opponent, breaking their will by just throwing the ball to one player or relying on a virtuoso individual talent, but 9 times out of 10 that’s simply not true. With the one exception being the five-wide on the 2PT attempt against WVU in 2006, I’m all for moving players, especially tight ends and fullbacks around in different formations to give the defense more to think about.
Watching NFL documentaries like “A football life” and the “America’s Game” series show you that the best linebackers can watch a ton of film and remember specific plays opponents run out of certain formations. So there’s three ways to combat this 1) run the same plays out of many formations, 2) have so many different looks the defense can’t be prepared for them all (even in the event of a spygate) or 3) create matchup problems the defense is forced into accepting. Ash used the word “versatility” to describe Anthony which indicates #1 above and intelligent which means he should be able to handle #2. The point of having a fullback who does anything other than block a middle linebacker is #3. So Rutgers at minimum is giving themselves some more options than they had before, particularly in the Mehringer offense.
NOTE: There was a question about quarterbacking, but per Ash “no one has mastered it” and since we will know more 48 hours from now, I figured I’d hold off on speculation until then.
Since I don’t want to be someone who only talks in an echo chamber, how about your thoughts in today’s poll?
What current level of confidence do you have in Chris Ash’s staff?
This poll is closed
Full. This staff always finds some way to move the needle.
Above average. Overall things are trending the right way but I need more to be sure.
Eh. You are what your record says you are.
Almost zero. I likely am only a Yankees, Patriots, and Alabama fan for choosing this option.