The big news out of Rutgers football practice on Tuesday was that for the first time during the allotted media access time in the almost two weeks of training camp so far, Texas Tech graduate transfer quarterback McLane Carter was observed taking snaps with the first team. This past Saturday during the open practice as part of fan appreciation day, which featured an intrasquad scrimmage, Carter threw three touchdown passes leading the second team offense against the second team defense. It seems that performance in particular has led to the competition for the starting to role to truly open up. Artur Sitkowski didn’t throw for a score or interception, but by all accounts didn’t register a big play in the scrimmage. There was a turnover on a snap near the offense’s own goal line that head coach Chris Ash was clearly upset about in his presser.
Without observing both Carter and the incumbent starter Sitkowski everyday in practice, it’s impossible to truly know how the two have fared throughout training camp. However, the development of Carter now taking first team snaps makes it fair to paint the following picture: Sitkowski hasn’t done enough to solidify that he is clearly the top quarterback and Carter has done enough to warrant a serious challenge for the starting spot.
There are several things to consider, as yet another August quarterback competition seems to have begun in earnest this week.
Ash was upfront at the start of camp, saying that Sitkowski was entering the August practice schedule as the no. 1 quarterback. He and offensive coordinator John McNulty have both commented they worked in the offseason to better tailor the offense to Sitkowski’s strengths. We’ve heard about his growth and development, work ethic and know that he has gotten the bulk of reps during camp and reportedly before this week, all with the first team. However, the quarterback situation is reaching a critical juncture with the season beginning in less than three weeks.
The biggest question is at what point do Ash and McNulty come to a decision on the starting quarterback and will that be to put the season, and perhaps their jobs, in the hands of Sitkowski? It’s clear they’ve been hoping for the sophomore to make it obvious that he is the unquestioned top option under center. Having this hope makes a lot of sense. They’ve invested a lot in the signal caller from Old Bridge, including sacrificing some competitiveness last season in order to give Sitkowski experience to help spur his development. His talent and potential made them believe that he can ultimately become a top tier Big Ten quarterback and having three seasons of eligibility remaining, it makes sense to give him every opportunity to succeed. Carter, who was named the opening day starter at Texas Tech last season, is entering his final season.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Sitkowski has displayed enough consistency and growth to warrant confidence that he has significantly improved heading into the 2019 season. At least not yet and while there is still time for him to do so, reports out of spring practice, training camp and Saturday’s scrimmage is that Sitkowski is still struggling with some of the issues he did last season. Decision making, reading defenses, checking down on receivers, and making something happen when the play breaks down seems to be areas that still plague him. With Carter making plays in practice and showcasing his skill set more and more each day, it’s forcing Ash and McNulty to give him a hard look as the potential starter.
We profiled the areas that Sitkowski and the entire offense need to improve on this season here, as well as what Carter could potentially bring to this team here. One area that Carter doesn’t seem to be lacking is confidence. Despite his journeyman like college career, Carter brings a Texas swagger and fresh energy to a team that desperately needs it in order to bounce back from last season’s 1-11 campaign. He shouldn’t be viewed as a savior, but he doesn’t bring any baggage or doubt that an 11 game losing streak that can creep into the minds of players who experienced it.
The thing I like about the Carter storyline is that he is doing what Rutgers ultimately needs, playing to win the starting job. I don’t mean this as a slight to Sitkowski, but this isn’t just about naming a starting quarterback. It’s about finding someone who can lead this team in way that makes the players truly believe this season will be different in a positive way.
Whoever is the starting quarterback, Rutgers desperately needs them to inject confidence and a strong belief to the huddle, and the entire team, that they can win. Without that mindset, things could snowball quickly like they did last season. Of course, at the end of the day, it boils down to which quarterback is most effectively executing the offense and putting playmakers in a position to be a factor and impose their will on the game.
Whether that is Sitkowski or Carter remains to be seen. One thing we know for sure is that a true competition for who will start is officially on. Perhaps a serious threat to his job will help Sitkowski elevate his play. Or Carter continues to get more comfortable in the offense after arriving in May and establishes himself as the best option. Whichever way it turns out, Rutgers desperately needs one of them to rise to the occasion and become the clear cut starter. The idea of the two quarterbacks splitting time is less than ideal.
With the season kicking off on August 30th at home against UMASS, the clock is ticking. Ideally, the decision will be made by this weekend as to give the starter almost two full weeks to lead the offense the rest of training camp and first week of the practice schedule in-season. Of course, whoever Ash and McNulty tab the starter in the opener could be replaced at any point in the season. However, they’ll have a better chance of achieving significant improvement as a team this fall if they can make the right decision in August. The next week is perhaps the most important one for this team this season, because it will hopefully lead to the best quarterback asserting themselves as the clear cut starter and not allowing for that notion to be questioned the rest of the way in 2019.
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