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Rutgers Football 2018: Quarterback Preview

Once again, there’s an “open competition.”

Purdue v Rutgers
Rescigno’s toughness has battled him through two half seasons as a starter.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Fall practice started Friday for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team. We continue a series of positional previews, working our way from the perceived weakest to strongest units that will be published every few days. Next up is the team’s quarterbacks. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty more updates on them as training camp continues and once Chris Ash names a starter. For last year’s preview, click here. For David Brown’s March review, click here.

Position coach: John McNulty (1st season on Chris Ash’s staff)

Key players lost: Kyle Bolin

Key players returning: Giovanni Rescigno (RSr.), Johnathan Lewis (So.)

Newcomers: Artur Sitkowski (Fr. early enrollee), Jalen Chatman (Fr. early enrollee)

Question 1: Can they establish a rhythm in the short and intermediate game?

Check out the interview Aaron did with Tony Racioppi if you haven’t yet, as the QB trainer for Lewis and Sitkowski talks about several aspects of the position including how important rhythm and footwork are.

I wasn’t expecting a superstar, but I thought Kyle Bolin would be better than he turned out. Blame the receivers all you want, but throwing for 711 yards in six games for Rutgers when he once threw for 362 in a single game while at Louisville seems a little nutty. Bolin wasn’t so atrocious that the staff could just yank him, especially as a senior captain. Kyle always seemed to do just enough Chris Laviano style to make you think that the next drive would be the one to turn the tide.

The staff stuck to their guns after the QB switch and only asked Gio to throw the ball on third and longs and occasionally to surprise the defense. Otherwise Rutgers was content to pound the rock for 3 yards on first and second down, ending up in third and short a lot of the time. There were plenty of times Gio had an equal chance to convert a third down by scrambling or throwing and he usually trusted his legs more than his arm. If Rescigno is the starter, expect him to be more capable of throwing quick slants and curls than last year. Sitkowski shows good ball placement for a freshman and Lewis has made strides, but ultimately this probably is dependent on our next inquiry, like a few OTB commenters indicated this week.

Question 2: Can they get defenses on their heels?

The deep threat discussion began in the wide receiver preview. If receivers can’t get a step, they need to win well timed or well placed 50-50 balls from the quarterbacks. Of the trio battling right now, Sitkowski has the edge over Lewis and Rescigno because he seems to have better feel for the proper velocity, placement, and angles from the pocket on these throws. As a result, Art seems to be able to “throw his receivers open” a little bit. From the little we have seen from all three quarterbacks, when they have time they can complete downfield tosses to open men.

This is where the philosophies diverge significantly depending on who is under center. Though he has shown improvement inside the pocket, Lewis is at his best when he can get outside the pocket and make plays. His size and speed cause defenders to take their eyes off the receivers and you end up with plays like Nakia Griffin-Stewart’s TD against Morgan State and more excitingly, Raheem Blackshear getting behind the Michigan State defense for a bomb TD. Rescigno also likes to see the field from outside the tackle box, but possesses a little more quickness without the same arm strength. This style of play makes it difficult for the offensive line, so the jury will be out for a while to answer this one.

Question 3: What else is new?

Chatman was incredible at both winning and putting up stats in high school. He’s not necessarily the next Doug Flutie, but at the high school level had similar success. Chatman does not have prototypical size nor is he incredibly fast, but you have to be pretty good at football to be throwing for nearly 4,000 yards as a junior in high school with 52 TDs and less than 10 INTs. As a senior his numbers dipped slightly, but he still led the team from a three touchdown deficit to another state title. Jalen is adept at feeling pressure and escaping it in a Russell Wilson type fashion. Though the team may not turn to him this year, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he leapfrogs Lewis and Sitkowski to start in 2019.

McNulty’s playground deep attack gets a lot of the attention, but his biggest impact with be elevating the fundamentals of his individual signal callers.

Question 4: Best case, worst case, and most likely scenarios?

Best case

Sitkowski comes out as a phenom from the “very first snap” as costigan_56 noted in the comments of the Racioppi interview. Receivers get open deep and intermediate routes become much easier to complete. Johnathan Lewis is a tank on QB runs in short yardage and pops a few play action changeups to keep defenses off balance.

Worst case

A slightly improved quarterback room is limited by minimal growth from the receiving corps, holes on the offensive line, and a step back in the run game. The signal callers aren’t good enough to put the offense on their backs.

Most likely

Sitkowski gets the nod initially and Rescigno comes in relief when Art has freshman struggles. If Rutgers is down big and Gio can’t move the needle, Lewis comes in to build some momentum on QB options with safeties playing two-deep due to game situation. Receivers do a better job of route running to get quick slant or comeback route yardage, but ultimately the tight ends have to make a lot of tough plays in traffic.

Players listed on the current roster

#3 Jalen Chatman (6’0”, 180 lbs.) Freshman

Jalen was brought to Ash’s attention by Lester Erb and could become a starter down the line due to his moxie. With Art’s ascension, Jalen is relatively under the radar now.

#8 Artur Sitkowski (6’5’, 224 lbs.) Freshman

Art was a huge get out of IMG Academy, but faces a lot of pressure from media and fans to be awesome out of the gate. He’s a prototypical pocket passer who can move better than people think.

#11 Johnathan Lewis (6’3”, 237 lbs.) Sophomore

Lewis was a hot quarterback prospect but didn’t enroll until fall 2017 so he had a long road to beat out Kyle Bolin or Gio for the starting job. He showed a flash or two but got injured and never really got big time until the last two games when all was already lost. He was hurt by the staff treating his throwing a little like Tylin Oden’s ducks, even though Lewis has a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder.

#14 Rob Nittolo (6’1”, 210 lbs.) Redshirt Senior

Nittolo joined the fold after spring 2017 and seemed like a dark horse to win the job. His window to become the starter probably closed, but he has had success at lower college levels and probably could do better than some other guys who got reps for Rutgers recently in games.

#17 Giovanni Rescigno (6’3”, 229 lbs.) Redshirt Senior

Gio seems like he has become an institution at RU. He never complained even though this is the second year he comes into camp looking to reclaim a job he won the previous year. The team is attracted to his toughness and never say die attitude which often puts him in harm’s way.

Incoming Freshmen

Sitkowski and Chatman enrolled in spring.

Additional Walk-ons

#19 Albert Albericci (6’0”, 175 lbs.) Freshman

Long term outlook: The saying when you have two quarterbacks, you really have zero is often true. The opportunity is there for Rutgers to improve at the quarterback position, but if they don’t, it will be a lot like 2017 as the other areas of the team aren’t suddenly going to bank together and give a powerhouse a run for their money. If the quarterbacks do improve or at least one becomes a solid Big Ten starter, the pieces are in place for a possible Cinderella run to a bowl game.

With the loss of Gio in 2019, Art, Jalen, and Lewis should be able to raise the level of play within the QB room yet again so there’s a real possibility Rutgers has a quarterback who can play at a competent Big Ten level without relying on future recruiting classes.

From Monday’s Practice:

Previous positional reviews:

Defensive Line

Wide Receiver

Special Teams