The Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team returns to spring practice this week.
This series reviews the state of each positional group in spring practice that runs throughout March into April and concludes with the spring game on April 13.
We continue with the Wide Receivers.
Position coach: Lester Erb
Key players lost: None
Key players returning: Bo Melton (Jr.), Everett Wormley (Jr.), Hunter Hayek (Jr.), Mo Jabbie (RJr.), Eddie Lewis (So.), Shameen Jones (RSo.), Tyler Hayek (RSo.), Jalen Jordan (RFr.), Zihir Lacewell (RFr.), Daevon Robinson (So.), Paul Woods (RFr.)
Newcomers: Monterio Hunt (Transfer) two true freshmen in summer
What they did better in 2018: Catch more balls than 2017.
In 2017 the wide receivers did a good job blocking on the perimeter, but even that was below average in 2018. And to say they had a good season catching the ball would be false, although RU receivers did improve on the paltry 55 receptions they had in 2017, the number one priority. In that campaign, 5th year seniors Janarion Grant (16) and Damon Mitchell (10) led the wide receiver corps in catches, followed by dismissed Dacoven Bailey with nine. So RU came into 2018 with a true freshman starting quarterback and sophomore Hunter Hayek as its leading returning wide receiver with eight career catches.
The stats still weren’t pretty, but sophomore Bo Melton went from four catches to 28, grayshirt freshman Eddie Lewis had 23, and redshirt freshman Shameen Jones added 15. True freshman hybrid tight end Daevon Robinson had eight, all in serious traffic, as I recall. Hayek (three), Wormley (one), and Jabbie (one) all had their production decrease in much fewer snaps.
So again this was not enough to get it done for their quarterbacks or the rest of the team as a whole, but actually was better than the year prior.
Needs Improvement: #1 priority: Reduce drops.
Lester Erb did not impact the group as much as anyone hoped in his first season with the wideouts despite the uptick in catches. You can pick if you believe drops were a bigger issue or gaining separation was. I think both were HUGE problems, but I’ll put the drops as #1, and the getting a step as #2 because above average QBs can help with the latter.
The microcosm of the season may have come in the Wisconsin game. With Rutgers trailing, they started to build some momentum in the third quarter and completely fooled the Badgers with a flea flicker as Wisconsin was expecting run seemingly every time. Shameen Jones was open after a good route but dropped what would have been a huge gain. Rutgers ended up scoring later in the drive, but so much more time had elapsed that it would end up being too little, too late.
Eddie Lewis flashed with his 23 catches during his freshman year, and seemingly could get a step out of the slot against virtually any defender. This at times is what prevented the staff from moving Raheem Blackshear to that role because they were waiting for Eddie to truly break out. The slot is so crucial for Rutgers because when trailing, defenses often retreat into cover-2 allowing a lot of space in the middle of the field.
That never quite happened and in the Northwestern game, Eddie, Shameen, and Bo Melton all had drops that would have resulted in first downs with Rutgers still ahead 15-10. If the Knights could have turned any of those into conversions and points, they probably win the game against the Big Ten West champion. Shameen did have the wide receiver’s first and only TD of 2018 against Indiana.
Changes expected in 2019
Everybody is back which is often a catch-22 for an underachieving group. It should be viewed as a good thing this time because the program returns its starting quarterback and offensive coordinator for the first time since 2008. Of course that coordinator incidentally enough was John McNulty during his first stint on the banks. Rutgers finally has a diverse set of wide receivers for the first time in half a decade, so establishing different sub packages may allow them to find a niche. If a player can succeed in his job, expanding that role might make sense. Now that McNulty has a year with the same personnel, hopefully he can maximize their contributions like he did the first time around.
After Eddie leapfrogged him for the starting role, Hunter Hayek’s role was limited in 2018 as the number of offensive snaps was light so the bottom half of the two deep did not get enough opportunities to spell the starters. It would be good to see both he and twin brother Tyler (deep threat) get situational playing time. The contingent of big freshmen have a year under their belts and all three are good all-around athletes who can be used as flexed tight ends at minimum; Zihir Lacewell, Jalen Jordan, and Daevon Robinson.
Monterio Hunt is not a burner on the outside, but flashed reliable hands as a JUCO. That is not going to set the world on fire, but as a spring enrollee maybe he can be a possession receiver out of certain formations where he is shielded from press coverage. Isaiah Washington could compete as a true freshman as well. He along with Stanley King could be huge X-factors, but fans should not get down on them if it takes time to start making plays. Both have the ability to go up and get the ball or shield defenders from back shoulder throws, but that takes trust from the quarterback which may not build fast enough in only summer training camp. There is an outside shot King is the second coming of Kenny Britt, running away from people by late in his true freshman year.
Way too early predictions
Melton, Shameen Jones, and Eddie Lewis remain the starters, but Raheem Blackshear gets some run as a motion wideout AND one of the tall guys is deployed as a receiver who could occasionally move to an H-back. Melton makes more strides as the chemistry with the QB improves while Jones and Lewis drop less passes which improve their stats. If Eddie Lewis does not improve his consistency, Hunter Hayek will be quickly inserted. Establishing the threat of jet sweeps is crucial, especially with Pacheco as a primary ball carrier in the middle.
As the season progresses, someone emerges as a deep ball threat, finally. The best guess would be Tyler Hayek or Stanley King because they probably have the best speed to run away from people down the field. One thing Sitkowski needs to understand is that pick sixes on short throws are unforgivable, but a bomb that gets tipped could be as good as most punts (although Adam Korsak might have something to say about that).
Of the remaining contingent, Daevon Robinson should be the best option to defeat good coverage, but I’ll say Lacewell is my pick to emerge. If either player is buried on the depth chart, the staff should quickly move them over to the defensive side of the field. Since that hasn’t happened yet, I think one of the will become the rugged receiver complement to Pacheco.
Previously covered groups
The "Birthplace Region" is headlined by William J. Leggett, the first team captain in @RFootball history. He helped shape the rules of the first ever college football game while leading Rutgers to a 6-4 win over Princeton!#TheBirthplace ⚔️ @RWJBarnabas ⚔️ #GoRU pic.twitter.com/mKxEWO4pJ0— Rutgers Scarlet Knights (@RUAthletics) March 25, 2019