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Rutgers Football: Who can go into beast mode?

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Team has a few guys who could go nuts, but only one “tank.”

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers
Pacheco is even more of a tank after the offseason workouts.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Even before Marshawn Lynch earned the nickname “beast mode”, the term was floated around for many of us who partook in Madden or NCAA Football the video game. My first real exchange that debated a Rutgers player as being able to go beast mode or just be a beast in general was over Khaseem Greene’s amazing 2011 season. Then I remember watching the season opener in 2014 and having a debate with my brother over Steve Longa having a swig of water on the sidelines. When I informed him Longa played high school ball at nearby Saddle Brook, he replied, “no way, people from Saddle Brook don’t look like that. He’s a beast.” I responded that former Scarlet Knight All-Big East selection Steve Beauharnis was also at Saddle Brook before playing his final year at St. Joseph’s (Montvale). Debate ensued about how someone could be good without being a “beast” and just because someone could at times look unstoppable that didn’t mean he truly earned “beast” as if it was a medal to put on an army uniform, patch for a varsity jacket, or NBA Live icon.

The distinction is relative to position and is best correlated with the fact that a player is above average for his position AND could physically dominate for some sustained period of time to a level that the opponent simply has no answers for other than avoid him. If the physical traits are there that a player could do this even beyond the scope of his normal position, he could earn the inflated distinction of being “a tank.” Tanks are hard to come by unless you are Clemson. Alabama and Ohio State are also full of tanks, but that’s no guarantee that a team cannot be defeated, particularly if the opponent has a quarterback who improves all the players around him. (In this rubric, the only thing above a tank is a supertank, think rare talent like Lawrence Taylor at the NFL level or a college Cam Newton).

So just for fun prior to the season opener, I tried to categorize players on the current Rutgers squad as to whether they have demonstrated beast mode or still have a chance to in their careers. If nothing else, it gives some reasons for hope. As Andy Dufresne said in the Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

For the nth time, a player can be a good player, possibly even better than someone who has a chance of being a beast and not earn the title. There are NFL players who aren’t beasts or tanks and still thrive due to their football smarts, ball skills, or overall consistency. I didn’t include the true freshmen in the “still a chance” category because hopefully all of them could be, but we haven’t seen them play yet.

Quarterback

Beast: None (last - Mike Teel)

Still a chance: Johnny Langan, Art Sitkowski

As a runner, at times Giovanni Rescigno was a load to bring down, but at quarterback to truly earn the title you have to have a cannon also (unless you are Drew Brees who is just too accurate, then maybe I can make an exception, maybe). To be a beast at QB, you have to be able to simply blow your opposition out if they aren’t up to the task by leading an offense with NO CHANCE of being stopped. So I thought about Gary Nova per games like Tulane for example, but let’s require the opponent to be a conference one for everyone’s assessment to be similarly founded. Nova against Michigan in 2014, maybe.

At the high school level, Langan showed these skills so there’s a shot it could translate. Notice the flatfooted, off-platform throws (not fundamentally sound) and at times just running over defenders. Sitkowski would have to do this by somehow turning into Ben Roethlisberger by completing bombs all over the field and being tough to bring down on the occasional scramble to buy tons of time. Art was nowhere close to this as a freshman, but I won’t fully close the book on the possibility yet. Cole Snyder would basically need to be Baker Mayfield, but that’s such a stretch I did not include him here. McLane Carter has some moxie, but lacks the elite athleticism.

Running Back

Beast: Isaih Pacheco (borderline tank)

Still a chance: Raheem Blackshear

Pacheco was borderline beast status until his run against Michigan where he showed how fast he could run by outracing the entire Wolverine defense, believed to be the fastest D in the country. Pacheco has since added even more muscle and if he can maintain the speed, might vault into “tank” status in 2019. Blackshear at times dominated Texas State and the coaches rave about him being their best offensive player, but he has yet to be unstoppable at any point other than maybe Texas State. There’s a better chance incoming freshman Kay’Ron Adams or Aaron Young flash this ability even if Raheem is a better overall player in 2019.

With running back the most common position to use the term beast mode, I admittedly used it for Justin Goodwin ONE time against Navy (close enough to Power Five) in 2014 after Paul James went down due to injury. James at times in 2013 and 2014 went beast mode himself, the WSU game (borderline tank) comes to mind as well as well as Fresno State (I know, not Power Five), but throw in Arkansas before Paul was injured, etc. Ray Rice and Brian Leonard were probably the last two tanks for RU at the position, though plenty of other good players have gone beast mode at one time or another, Jawan Jamison the most forgotten.

Tight End / Fullback

Beast: none (last - Tyler Kroft)

Still a chance: Johnathan Lewis.

Jerome Washington if he could have avoided injury AND had stable QB play would have been a likely beast. Instead, Rutgers is still waiting on someone else to take the torch from Tyler Kroft who was unguardable at times during his last year on the banks and even at times in the NFL two years ago. Lewis looked like a “monster” in the photos from the first spring practice so perhaps he eclipses DC Jefferson as a converted QB-TE, but has yet to catch a college pass. Other guys end up here after position changes. I really thought Nakia Griffin-Stewart had this type of potential, but it never materialized at RU. Not even all NFL TEs are beasts, remember Matt Flanagan? Ouch.

Wide Receiver

Beast: none (last - Leonte Carroo)

Still a chance: Bo Melton, Daevon Robinson, Jalen Jordan

Robinson and Jordan are somewhat cheating because at this point they probably would need to do their damage more as a flexed tight end or in Robinson case even defensive end no matter how desperate the team is for them to play wideout. Melton still has an outside shot of being Janarion Grant, but needs to step up in a major way. I love Grant but he never completely dominated a game as a receiver against Power Five competition. The real chance here is once Stanley King and Isaiah Washington get some time.

Offensive Line

Beast: None (last - Kaleb Johnson)

Still a chance: Kamaal Seymour, Raiqwon O’Neal

On the offensive line often the sign of a beast is being able to start as a redshirt freshman. O’Neal was spoken highly about by McNulty so maybe he can leapfrog Tariq Cole who was always on the cusp. McNulty also believes Seymour has the physical ability, but we have never seen him absolutely dominate his man in a Big Ten game other than maybe at Illinois in 2017 when RU pounded the Illini. Jonah Jackson was the team’s best lineman in 2018 and I expect some fans to mark him in the beast category most recently but I never recall a time where I was certain RU could gain five yards behind him guaranteed. Mike Maietti is a good player who deserves respect but is not real “beast” though someone like Jeff Saturday wasn’t either and won a Super Bowl as an NFL center. The rest of the group needs to come a long way and until I hear the term “manhandle” to describe several plays in a single game, we’ll be waiting.

Defensive Line

Beast: None (last - Kemoko Turay)

Still a chance: Mike Tverdov, Tijaun Mason, Micah Clark? Robin Jutwreten?

On the defensive line, a player needs to be able to speed and bull rush to be in the backfield almost every time they are actually trying. If a player is unblockable or requires two men to do so at all times, welcome to the club. Of course Sebastian Joseph was often not asked to do more than sit down and clog the middle; that got him drafted. Kevin Wilkins always had the physical ability and could prove me wrong if he blows people out of the water in the NFL (and therefore under-appreciated), but it never felt like he actually took over a game at the interior line. Jon Bateky was a solid multi-year starter though never blowing people up.

Mike Tverdov showed some quickness and desire and I added Clark because there’s a chance. If Tverdov can also be disruptive as an interior guy at times, he deserves the nickname. Elorm Lumor might deserve recognition but since he plays on the outside all the time needs to be even more dangerous. Just because you are a fast pass rusher doesn’t deserve “beast mode”. For an outside rusher, the quarterback has to be rushing every throw because he knows you are going to get there soon. The best example was in the 2014 opener against Washington State, when the Cougars had no hope of containing Turay or Longa on the other side in obvious passing situations late in the game.

Mason definitely could be and Jutwreten is an x-factor.

Linebacker

Beast: none (last - Steve Longa / Quentin Gause)

Still a chance: Drew Singleton, Tyshon Fogg, Mohamed Toure, CJ Onyechi, Nihym Anderson

Early reviews from spring practice indicated that Singleton was by far the best linebacker which is saying a lot considering Tyreek Maddox-Williams is a solid two-year starter. As spring progressed though, this faded and Olakunle Fatukasi is still first on the depth chart at the WILL position. There’s a host of other guys who still have a chance to explode on ball carriers and be real tough to block which is a good sign for the future. I omitted Fatukasi despite him showing up on special teams. Deonte Roberts went beast mode a few times like the first half of the Kansas game, but otherwise I’d consider he and Trevor Morris to have been solid yet unspectacular.

I cannot wait to see if Zukudo Igwenagu fits the bill somewhere right away.

Defensive Back

Beast: Avery Young

Still a chance: Malik Dixon, Damon Hayes

Bless Austin was a tank against lesser competition and a beast in the Big Ten. Saquan Hampton finally went beast mode against Wisconsin. Kiy Hester when healthy also flashed some moments where he was a missile coming to hit people while also being an interception magnet. Being banged up in 2018 we didn’t get to see Kiy at his peak like he was at times in 2017. Isaiah Wharton was a solid starter, but I would never put him in beast mode outside of the game ending plays against Maryland and Purdue in 2017, with respect to the 2015 Indiana second half.

Avery Young after his baptism by fire was always playing good coverage and making a ton of tackles more than a cornerback is expected to make. He has the physical make up to be a real dominant player and achieve tank status. Damon Hayes could get a shot at the NFL, but I’ve never seen him in true beast mode yet. Malik Dixon is big and fast so he’s a wildcard. Otherwise, we have to wait to see the true freshmen like Donald Williams. I omitted Kessawn Abraham despite him showing it as a punt gunner.

Here’s an example of how a corner can make his case for “beast” status:

Special teams

Beast: none (last K/P - Deron Cherry, return man - Janarion Grant)

Still a chance: Adam Korsak, Justin Davidovicz

For punter standards, Korsak might already qualify. The reason I didn’t put him there yet is because he hasn’t yet pulled off a rollout run for a first down or thrown a pass successfully. Yes his punts are awesome, but opponents often try to just play it safe against RU. Davidovicz has a strong leg, but for a field goal kicker to earn the status he has to kick a touchback every single time OR kick fly balls to the one yard line that are impossible to return (like Sebastian Janikowski). This skill is now obsolete for the most part anyway with the new fair catch rules, so the placekicker needs to come through with long kicks for key momentum shifts in the game on a regular basis. Perhaps if the offense gives him more chances Justin could be an elite field goal kicker. Not sure if I’d ever put any kicker or punters as ever having been a beast other than Cherry.

The return game has maybe Avery Young or one of the incoming freshman as a candidate.

For reference, the full list of guys who earned “tank” status at any point since 2000: LJ Smith, Brian Leonard (supertank), Ray Rice, Mohamed Sanu, Devin McCourty, Anthony Davis (supertank), Leonte Carroo (supertank), Janarion Grant (as return man), Brandon Coleman (before he was injured), Khaseem Greene, Kemoko Turay (when healthy), Kenny Britt, Darnell Stapleton, George Johnson ... borderline tank, definitely beast: Scott Vallone, Jeremy Zuttah, Mike Teel (late 2008), Tim Brown (Uconn miracle), Eric Foster, Jamaal Westerman, Steve Longa, Logan Ryan, Tiquan Underwood, Nate Jones, Raheem Orr. Also of note: Lorenzo Waters and Josh Hicks against UNC in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl. Let me know who I missed.

This is the best beast mode play I have seen at Rutgers in the last decade.

Plenty of debate is expected from this exercise, so have at it in the comments section below.