Rutgers’ Football is winding down training camp 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 wide receivers.
Position coach: Tiquan Underwood
Key players returning: Bo Melton, Shameen Jones, Aron Cruickshank, Isaiah Washington
Key newcomers: Joshua Youngblood (Kansas State transfer), Brandon Sanders (Bucknell transfer)
What they did well in 2020: Big-time breakouts
Entering the 2020 season, the receiving corps in Piscataway was a big question mark minus Bo Melton. Heading into 2021, that is no longer the case. Offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson and receivers’ coach Tiquan Underwood helped this group take the next step. Even the Scarlet Knights’ No. 1 threat had a breakout campaign.
Melton is one of the best players for Rutgers on either side of the ball. In 2020, he went from a good receiver to a legitimate No. 1 in the Big Ten. Melton finished with 47 catches for 638 yards and six touchdowns. He led the team in all categories while ranking third in the Big Ten with nine total touchdowns. Melton was also top five in receiving yards and combined kick return yards.
The Scarlet Knights developed a second weapon with Shameen Jones. He finished with 34 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Jones broke out against Purdue with eight catches for 88 yards and two scores. He followed that up with seven catches for 127 yards against Michigan. Jones has high expectations heading into Thursday’s matchup against Temple.
Melton and Jones give Rutgers a strong duo on the outside. This is along with Aron Cruickshank and Isaiah Washington. Cruickshank is one of the top kick returners in the nation but was also second on the team with 37 receptions. Expect him to be used more in the receiving game for the Scarlet Knights this season, while Washington flashed his big play ability in the spring game. After some breakout campaigns in 2020, the receiving corps for Rutgers is primed to put up big numbers in 2021.
Needs Improvement: Physicality
The Scarlet Knights took the next step as pass catchers and that is No. 1 on the list. Now, they can work on gaining that physicality and toughness that can make them elite in the Big Ten.
It is no secret that Ohio State has one of the best receiving duos in the nation with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Penn State also features a strong group led by Jahan Dotson. These are receivers that can win one-on-one battles on the outside using their speed and route running along with strength and physicality.
The Scarlet Knights have receivers that can be more physical at the point of attack. Melton and Jones have a chance to get the better of cornerbacks at the one of scrimmage which will give them an edge getting down the field. Big Ten corners will try to stop the receiver in their route right away and throw off the timing. In this offense, it is key for the receivers to create space.
What to Expect in 2021
It is not easy for any position group to learn virtually. This includes a receiving corps that had to learn a new offense through web ex meetings last season. Gleeson came in and made an immediate impact with his fast-paced style of offense. With a normal offseason with training and practices, big things could be coming.
The Scarlet Knights return the same offensive coordinator and starting quarterback in back-to-back seasons for the first time in over a decade. This continuity will benefit the offense as a whole. With Vedral being comfortable in the offense, this will help the receivers and vice versa. Melton and the rest of the receivers have a chance to put up some big numbers and this would help the offense continue to improve. If transfer receivers Joshua Youngblood and Brandon Sanders can make an impact in the short passing game, that would be an important development as well.
Melton is the most-proven commodity but it is exciting to see how Jones and Cruickshank will be used this season. Gleeson is a coordinator with a bright future as a head coach. Underwood is another assistant that is extremely important for the success of the offense. With this duo being back, it is hard not to be hopeful for the offense. All of a sudden, the receiving corps looks deep.
Regular offseason, experienced receivers, continuity on the field and within the coaching staff. The Scarlet Knights check a lot of boxes heading into the 2021 season.
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