Rutgers’ Football is well into practices and it is beginning to feel like a normal year. The Scarlet Knights were able to get through Spring ball and into late summer practices for the first time since 2019. This is a good sign for a team looking to continue to improve upon a 2020 season that saw them finish with three victories in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights will open the season against Temple on Sept. 2.
This preview series will take you through each position group and examine strengths and weaknesses of the team heading into the season.
We continue here with the tight end position.
Position coach: Nunzio Campanile
Key players returning: Jovani Haskins, Matt Alaimo, Victor Konopka, Brandon Myers
What they did well in 2020: Blocking and playing their roles
The tight end position for the Scarlet Knights has not been a strength in recent years. That is something that Greg Schiano believes can change with this current group.
“We have some young guys in the pipeline I think are going to be really good tight ends and that are gifted,” Schiano said at Big Ten media day in Indianapolis. “They’re 6-6, 6-7. The kind of bodies you want at that position. I think the position, there’s a bright future there.”
The group showed off great size and this helped when blocking. Jovani Haskins, who will enter the year as the starter, is 6-foot-6. Matt Alaimo is 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds while Victor Konopka is the biggest at 6-foot-7. Haskins is still developing his blocking ability but this is a role that Alaimo excelled in.
The position is one that looks a lot deeper than in recent years. It is even gaining depth since the spring and early summer. In year one with Sean Gleeson as offensive coordinator, the offense showed creativity but a lot of it did not feature tight ends. Now, they have a chance to be used as more than blockers.
Needs Improvement: Pass catching
There is no doubt that an offense can rely heavily on its tight end if able. In 2020, the Scarlet Knights did not have a consistent weapon at tight end but that could change moving forward.
“That’s important because a tight end in an offense is always a quarterback’s security blanket,” Schiano said. “When you have a good one it becomes more than that: It becomes a weapon.”
Last season, Haskins led the way with six catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Alaimo started two games and totaled seven catches for just 23 yards. No other tight end logged a catch in nine games. A total of 13 catches in nine games is low for a position group.
This is clearly the aspect of the position that needs to improve in the upcoming season and according to Schiano, this is a possibility.
What to Expect in 2021
This is not to say that Rutgers is going to be Iowa or Miami at the tight end position in 2021 but it is fair to expect more than 13 catches in the flow of the offense. They will continue to be huge factors when blocking since Isaih Pacheco could have a big year and Noah Vedral likes to use his legs. At the same time, Vedral could target them as pass catchers more often.
This also falls on the shoulders of Gleeson to get the tight ends more involved. If they can develop into pass catchers, this is a bonus for the offense. The Scarlet Knights have weapons on the outside in place. The tight ends are athletic enough to take the next step as pass catchers.
Alaimo has been working in the offseason on other aspects of his game. Konopka is an elite athlete but is still a bit raw. He is a transitioned basketball player that is still learning the position. Haskins has shown the most within the offense so far. Zukudo Igwenagu is a physical specimen who could become a facto as well.
Again, this is not to say that the Scarlet Knights will become Tight End University but do not be surprised to see the position used more.
Gleeson took the offense to another level last season compared to 2019. Will that happen again? It could if the Scarlet Knights find some new weapons in their tight ends. There is finally some continuity within the offense with both Gleeson and Vedral back for the second year in a row. This team will have to score some points if they want to win some games this season. There are many ways to do that and Gleeson will certainly be implementing some new wrinkles that have not been seen just yet.
Other Position Groups