One of the great part of Big Ten Media Days is the focus that is given to the players that accompany the coaching staff to the event. Each team is permitted to bring three players, a privilege that is usually bestowed upon seniors that have the biggest impact on the team, either on the field, in the locker room, or both. The players this year, Blessuan Austin, Tariq Cole, and Deonte Roberts fit both of these parameters as well as being able to conduct themselves as strong young men who can represent the team and school well.
Yesterday, as part of the Big Ten Network’s coverage of Rutgers at the event, Tariq, Deonte and Blessuan were interviewed by host Dave Revsine in the studio set up at the Chicago Marriott.
Tariq Cole declared that the lack of player leaders on the team held the team back over the past two seasons. “We haven’t had leadership in the past couple of years. The older guys, the 5th year, the four year starters...they need to be the biggest leaders that we have on the team. O-line, D-line, it starts up front, and we need those two units to be the best.”
That was obviously followed up with a question from Dan Resvine, “You say you haven’t had leadership...you’re saying you haven’t had leadership, or you’re just saying you haven’t had good leadership? I mean, have there been guys who have tried to step up and they just weren’t the right guys?”
Cole didn’t flinch, “Yes sir. I think that’s been the biggest difference between us winning a lot more games than we have been in the past. Leadership just wasn’t there. This year, these past couple of months, leadership has shown up in bigger ways than I’ve seen personally in the past couple of years.”
Interestingly, Deonte Roberts, a co-captain from last season, agreed immediately, which is telling. This is not something that creates dissension, it is a unifying concept, which is critical for the team.
Another key point made was Blessuan Austin declared himself 100% recovered from the ACL injury which sidelined him for the final eight games of the 2017 season. He stated that the biggest headache the coaches have regarding their defensive backfield is how to get all of them on the field at one time, as they are that strong top to bottom.
As Head Coach Chris Ash stated in his press conference, and to the surprise of no one, that offense was an area of weakness in 2017. Tariq Cole was asked what new offensive coordinator John McNulty was bringing to the offense. With a grin, he replied, “A lot of high balls, a lot of shots taken downfield, and the running game is going to be greatly improved.”
When asked about the QB situation, Cole was cagey in his reply, “In the quarterback room they’re fighting. Everyone wants a spot. Guys like Artur or Gio or Jon Lewis, they all have a chance to play. It really comes down to who can execute the best at the end of the day. Training camp is going to be really fun to watch!”
When asked how Rutgers can compete in the Big Ten East, arguably the best division in college football, Blessuan feels they are close. He feels the gap has already closed, and that Head Coach Chris Ash is providing what they need to be successful, both in facility improvements and in better preparing the players to compete.
Deonte Roberts agreed, saying, “It’s just going out there and competing. We preach it every day about competing, going hard, and doing the little things right, because that’s what’s going to separate you, you know?”
Tariq Cole on player leadership: “This year, these past couple of months, leadership has shown up in bigger ways than I’ve seen personally in the past couple of years.”
When asked what a successful season would look like, Tariq refused to get caught up in making predictions. First stating you need to look at each game individually, he did say the goal is to win the Big Ten East. Deonte Roberts said that even without winning the division, improvements from the previous year will be visible at the end of the season. Blessuan agreed that improvements were critical to show improvements, and that a bowl game and the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 1 are the goals they want.
A strong performance in the studio by these three senior leaders overall. To see the entire interview, click on the video below.