The BTN crew of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo, and Howard Griffith made their annual training camp visit to Rutgers on Thursday. They posted a lot of footage on social media and the on-air broadcast will provide more coverage as well, which we will also cover later on. For now, here are three takeaways I have regarding points the BTN crew made on their visit to practice.
OC John McNulty Bringing Focus To Quarterback Play
The past two seasons, Rutgers has had an almost non-existent passing game. We all suffered through watching it. The arrival of 4-star recruit Artur Sitkowski adds significant talent to the QB room, in addition to an improved Johnathan Lewis and gritty veteran Gio Rescigno. However, the biggest plus at the position for this season could be the addition of offensive coordinator John McNulty. His experience of coaching quarterbacks in the NFL, as well as his time engineering the most explosive offense in Rutgers history a decade ago is a major addition to the program. DiNardo highlighted three basic factors that McNulty is harping on with his quarterbacks.
BTN Bus Tour Stop 2 @RFootball - Competition at quarterback is intense, healthy and based on specific things. Accurate deep ball, convert on 3rd downs and handle all the LOS checks.— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) August 9, 2018
McNulty has talked at camp about the need for the offense to generate big plays, so it’s obvious whichever QB he decides to start, a big part of his decision will be based on their ability to convert on deep pass plays. Converting third downs is always important, but which quarterback that has the best skill set/versatility in their tool box will certainly be a factor. Being able to adjust the play based on what the defense is showing was the third area DiNardo mentioned as a point of emphasis from McNulty. On the face of it, it’s fair to consider Rescigno more likely to be ahead in this area based on his experience. On the flip side, we know how Sitkowski and Lewis fare in this area will be key to their overall development and chances to win the starting job.
Dave Revsine highlighted Sitkowski as his favorite to win the starting quarterback job. I think his point about Artur being a “guy you can build around” is a telling statement that makes it clear his long term outlook should be a factor in McNulty’s decision. While Gio offers experience, Sitkowski offers a real time vision of what the future of this position could look like for an extended period of time at Rutgers, which would resonate with recruits.
Big story at Rutgers camp - Artur Sitkowski. Just based on size and skill set, would be surprised if he’s not the guy. Starting a true Frosh QB comes w challenges - but this is a guy you can build around. Impressive. pic.twitter.com/Z2GmQBr9DP— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) August 9, 2018
DiNardo gave a more in-depth impression of the quarterback race, stating he sees it as a two-man race between Gio and Sitkowski. Granted, BTN has only seen one practice, but his insight is worth listening to.
Whoever starts at quarterback this season for Rutgers, having McNulty back at offensive coordinator brings confidence that they will be as well prepared as possible to be successful. His ability to get the most out of a veteran like Gio, while being able to teach young signal callers like Lewis and Sitkowski gives Rutgers a major asset leading the quarterback position moving forward, something the program hasn’t had since Ralph Friedgen in 2014.
Blessuan Austin Looks Healthy
Cornerback Bless Austin’s recovery from a torn ACL last season has been speedy. He declared himself 100% healthy at Big Ten Media Day and head coach Chris Ash has said there would be no limitations on him during training camp. The BTN crew highlighted some footage of Austin in action at practice and he looks to be moving around very well.
The Rutgers defense brings more front line talent and experience to the field this season than the program has in some time. However, having Austin back healthy is a major key to the defense achieving close to or reach it’s ceiling in regard to the overall potential of that unit. Seeing Austin move around and operate the way he does in these two short clips should certainly make Rutgers fans more confident that he will be at the top of his game at the start of the season.
Offensive Line Could Be A Strength
No matter who starts at quarterback, how many young receivers have potential to have breakout seasons, how talented the tight ends are or how deep the running back group is, none of them will reach their potential without strong play from the offensive line. Our David Anderson previewed the group yesterday and highlighted the improved depth this season. DiNardo agreed and singled out that point as the biggest change for the program from Ash’s first two seasons to now.
BTN Bus Tour Stop 3 @RFootball - Biggest change from year 1 & 2 is the offensive line depth. Defensive line depth still work in progress.— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) August 9, 2018
While the offensive playbook has changed yet again under John McNulty, the ninth offensive coordinator at Rutgers in as many seasons, DiNardo highlights a comforting thought from star left tackle Tariq Cole.
BTN Bus Tour Stop 3 @RFootball - Not a lot of change for the offensive line with the new offense. As Tariq Cole says "a zone scheme is a zone scheme and a gap scheme is a gap scheme"— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) August 9, 2018
It makes sense and also reiterates that past struggles on the offensive line were likely more due to a lack of talent and depth versus an annual change of the system.
James Kratch of NJ Advance Media made the point that it appears the starters at offensive line seem to be set as week 1 of camp ends. With Cole at left tackle, Mike Lonsdorf at left guard, Mike Maetti at center, Jonah Jackson at right guard, and Kamaal Seymour at right tackle, the offensive line is establishing some continuity early on in camp, which is so important. McNulty called the offensive line “best unit in camp so far” in Kratch’s article from earlier in the week. While the below clip shows the speed and cutting ability of running back Raheem Blackshear, what excites me more it about is the superb blocking and outside lane created by the offensive line.
Raheem Blackshear taking one in in team drills pic.twitter.com/5sKFfiKC9H— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) August 9, 2018
As I stated at the top, the BTN crew will have more in their show later on and Of course, they are positive at every one of their fourteen stops around the Big Ten. However, there are legitimate reasons that their optimism this year is more warranted than before. Improved quarterback play, the health of Blessuan Austin, and a cohesive unit at offensive line are three factors that could help Rutgers make significant progress on the field this season.
For more on BTN’s visit to Rutgers practice, click here.