The night before the first Wednesday in February used to be the most anticipated of the year for college football fans of teams who failed to meet expectations the season (or in RU’s case seasons plural) prior. That started to change with the early signing period two years ago and continued to evolve with the transfer portal since. So when I went to bed last night, there was very little expected to happen for Rutgers Football today outside the status of preferred walk-ons, blue shirts, and the official announcement of transfers that have been committed for a few weeks. Nothing major happened to prove that us wrong.
It was clear that over the past six weeks Rutgers needed to get more depth in the trenches, needed to add playmakers regardless of position, and was targeting talent regardless of how much eligibility the individual had left at the college level. The excitement of 10 early enrollees and being able to start assessing if they fill some of these needs was also a boost to the program. There was also a counterforce, particularly the departures via transfer portal of a number of players from the 2019 roster, including multiple starters. Head Coach Greg Schiano had limited time to take advantage of adding players as well as sell his vision to the existing personnel. During this time, the coaching staff was changing which had ripple effects that will be explored in more detail later this week.
For today, let’s dive into what happened and didn’t happen since my Early Signing Period Day One Report Card for the Scarlet Knights.
Defensive line is the most difficult position group to find these days. On the outside, Rutgers had already made it clear after Day One of the early period that they needed to add some long defensive ends. The two names primarily targeted during that 48 hour window were Wesley Bailey (who signed and enrolled early) and Paris Shand who elected to wait to decide. Troy Rainey was the only true interior defensive lineman signed, so there was also a chance another defensive tackle could have joined the fold.
Rather than wait for February 5, what occurred in the early part of January was a full court press of transfers to stockpile on the defensive line which ultimately resulted in the additions of Ireland Burke (Boston College) and Michael Dwumfour (Michigan) formally announced today. Burke is over 300 pounds after his freshman campaign at Boston College and will be in the two-deep as soon as he is eligible, a waiver would be needed for 2020. Dwumfour is a graduate transfer with immediate eligibility who if healthy will be able to contribute in bursts as an undersized defensive tackle. Both add needed Power Five experience to buy time for more high school prospects to be recruited by the new coaching staff down the road and fill these positions.
The need in the immediate term got a boost with the unexpected departure of multi-year starting Defensive End Elorm Lumor for the NFL. Since no high school player is expected to step in as a starter in the Big Ten, it led to rumors about the possible addition of Temple transfer Quincy Roche the 2019 AAC defensive player of the year, who ultimately ended up at Miami (FL) about a week later. Rutgers will be on the look out for a possible contributor who becomes available as a transfer prior to summer training camp, which is less of a challenge for defensive linemen than anyone on offense who would need to learn the playbook or the other spots on the defense that have to react to the levels in front of them.
Fast forward to last weekend when Shand was on an official visit with Owen Snively, who could end up at DT though more likely OT at the college level. Ultimately, both players ended up at alternate destinations, but that means two scholarships remain open in the 2020 cycle that could be used elsewhere. Rutgers did get a commitment from Tahjay Moore, a basketball star who is very raw and looks real good coming off the bus. Moore could end up at Tight End or Defensive End with the untapped upside that could turn out to be a steal. These types of adds like Moore, who is expected to blueshirt meaning he will be on scholarship for the 2021 cycle and not eligible in fall 2020 reduce the need for him to contribute on gameday right away.
To quantify this factoring in the additions and subtractions, my grade for the defensive line at this point probably moves from a C- to a B-. Grades of recruiting classes before they had been on campus for at least three years was silly before and now even more foolish, but we’re trying to convey what happened here on the banks.
Rutgers looked to be selective if another offensive lineman was added beyond the four from early signing day one. Rutgers ultimately ended up in the final two for aforementioned New Hampshire OL/DL prospect Owen Snively, but he chose Colorado State. No one else at the moment seems like a logical addition in this class.
The bigger issue than not adding another piece was the departure of multi-year starting center Mike Maietti who entered the transfer portal. Rutgers also lost backup center Sam Howson and guard Jamaal Beaty, but it was Maietti who outperformed his recruiting rankings and was a steady force for the Scarlet Knights since he entered the lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2017. No one on the roster is a natural next man up, so we’ll see if new Offensive Line Coach Andrew Aurich can work some magic while someone else steps into the leadership void.
This was disappointing, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if RU ends up using one of its remaining scholarships on someone who becomes available in the coming months.
For the 5th year in a row, everyone knows Rutgers needs better quarterback play or not much else will matter. I’m not a fan of the running quarterback as a first option but if you don’t have a quarterback who possesses pinpoint accuracy or a strong deep ball threat, I am totally fine utilizing a guy who is better as a runner. Rutgers does return starter Johnny Langan who is a run first, run second quarterback, but speedster and Baylor transfer Peyton Powell will get a crack at quarterback rather than immediately moving to another position. Art Sitkowski returned to campus after a stint in the transfer portal so there is a chance Rutgers has someone who can lead their offense in 2020. I do like Cole Snyder and Evan Simon long-term.
Rather than be content to simply hope, there’s still a chance a graduate transfer could end up on the banks for offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Sean Gleeson. I have no insider information that Rutgers is even talking to Boston College graduate transfer and New Jersey native Anthony Brown, but the sheer fact that someone like him with starting experience is even still available means there could be opportunity to snag someone of his caliber late in the game. Let’s hope if someone is ultimately added, they have more success than Kyle Bolin, McLane Carter, and so on. It would have been nice to have seen some boost at QB in the last few weeks though.
Especially if you don’t have a proven stud quarterback under center, adding playmakers to catch the ball and run on offense is critical. The target the fan base hoped would secretly commit before his January announcement at the Army All-American Bowl was of course Jalen Berger of Don Bosco. Berger instead chose Wisconsin with its commitment to run the ball and track record with backs, particularly from New Jersey like Ron Dayne, Corey Clement, and most recently Jonathan Taylor so you could see the appeal. The bigger loss was the buzz that might have come with it.
Then what could turn out to be a push happened about two weeks later. Raheem Blackshear who let the Knights in rushing and receiving in 2018 announced he would attend Virginia Tech while former Wisconsin Badger Aron Cruickshank decided to come to Rutgers. Raheem was the team’s best offensive player in 2018 and early 2019, but the team may be able to patch together a replacement and also avoid the pitfall that came with quarterbacks often locking onto him too soon and often. Cruickshank never carved out a real role on offense, but was a spectacular return man (2nd-team All-Big Ten in 2019) and does have more speed than Blackshear. Raheem is definitely the more polished player today, but didn't draw as much interest (partially since he may only have one more year of eligibility) as anticipated.
Attrition at Wide Receiver soon followed and though I hate the term “dead weight” that was thrown around the message boards, the fact that Rutgers had more scholarship receivers than any other position and got so little production from the group meant radical changes were not a shock. Former starters Daevon Robinson, Mo Jabbie, Eddie Lewis, and Hunter Hayek were joined by the raw Jalen Jordan in the transfer portal. None of them were playmakers at RU so far, although Eddie showed flashes in 2018 while the height of Robinson and Jordan would likely have eventually made one of them into a reliable red zone target. If Hunter Hayek becomes the next Chris Hogan at his next stop, heads will roll. Mo Jabbie will be missed for his reliability, special teams contributions, and blocking not his ability to separate, but had only that one career TD against Illinois. As disappointing as all this is, Rutgers still has plenty of wide receivers and tight ends on the team who will get more reps for a few of them to break out.
Rutgers also added possible high reward with low risk in the form of another blueshirt, who was reported to have committed Tuesday; Jessie Parson of New Rochelle, NY. Parson like Kyle Monangai who signed in December could play in the slot or as a running back. Greg Schiano and his staff know that speed at the expense of size at the skill positions is something they need to accept at this point and to compensate need some bigger guys on the offensive line. The team did lose backup running back Elijah Barnwell, but starting running back and playmaker Isaih Pacheco will return for his junior year.
On the defensive side, Rutgers did lose Lumor who could get a few sacks, but added a proven playmaker at safety in former four-star Brendon White. White should step into a starting role at either safety spot right away after his position was eliminated at Ohio State. Rutgers still needs to find ways to generate turnovers and one way is taking a chance on one player, Jamier Wright-Collins, who explodes on film and was an all-state performer. There are a few academic hurdles for Jamier to complete so he was not officially announced today, though he could be later this spring.
Adding playmakers will remain a need until at least RU has a good quarterback, or more likely forever since they will always be undermanned against Big Ten East foes and playmaking (big yards after the catch on offense and turnovers on D) is the great equalizer.
It was somewhat shocking that there were three-star players in a New Jersey class willing to wait on Rutgers primarily because they are in the Big Ten last year, so I was not at all shocked this time. Preferred walk-ons are critical to middle of the pack and rebuilding programs in Power Five conferences. This crop includes Nasir Montgomery (ATH - East Orange), Piotr Partyla (RB - Lyndhurst), Lucas Giordano (OL - Seton Hall Prep), and Kevin Schaeffer (OL - West Milford). Keep in mind these players do not sign National Letters of Intent (NLIs), so they could change their mind and sign elsewhere as we have seen before. Let’s hope not and instead look to see more on the banks this fall.
How did Rutgers do and what’s next?
Wednesday was a very quiet day, but that is ok and the fan base should have faith in Schiano who did more than anyone really good have expected up to this point. The current class ranking will end up somewhere between the mid 60s in all likelihood, not bad after Rutgers was 2-10 and atrocious AGAIN, and a new coaching staff had just weeks to recruit and sign athletes in the 2020 class. There is still a chance that a high school prospect could be added late to this class, but don’t expect it. Schiano more likely will fill his final spots with transfers that are homesick or the odd man out in their programs but see a path to playing time on the banks. The position likely does not matter as Rutgers could easily upgrade at every position on the field in 2020.
It seems like the prudent move to be selective with remaining high school players and focus on the 2021 class or high ceiling transfers that move the needle. It is important to have a strong base of high school players with four years to play to build culture, but I think Rutgers got enough in this class during the early signing period. Had that not happened in December despite just three on-field coaches we may have seen a much different day today.
Don’t just take my word for it, check out the old ball coach’s interview on BTN earlier today.
Keep checking onthebanks.com for more coverage of recruiting and information heading into spring practice.