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Reading the tea leaves on the plan for Gavin Wimsatt

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You shouldn’t be surprised if the highest rated quarterback on the roster plays against Delaware or at any point this season, even if it would be unprecedented.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Rutgers at Syracuse Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rutgers football head coach Greg Schiano is a master strategist when it comes to communicating with the media. He knows how to answer specific questions in a way that never gives away too much, avoiding the potential slip to give an opponent a competitive advantage. As far as head coaches go, Schiano is certainly not the easiest to read in regard to what he is really thinking and that’s exactly how he likes it.

With that in mind, it got me thinking as to what Schiano is and isn’t saying about Gavin Wimsatt.

I find it telling in how Schiano has answered many questions posed to him since the arrival of former Top 100 recruit. Since the star quarterback prospect surprisingly arrived on September 6, his presence has obviously been a popular topic among fans and media alike.

Earlier this week, when asked about Wimsatt’s status, Schiano said, “Gavin is eligible to do everything now. He’s eligible to practice in full pads, he’s eligible to dress for the game. He’s an eligible player by NCAA rules. And everyone who is eligible, it’s possible they could play.”

That last line was perhaps Schiano’s way of avoiding a follow up question, but the fact that he volunteered the fact that Wimsatt is now able to play certainly wasn’t necessary.

In regard to how Wimsatt is transitioning to college life, Schiano said, “I think we’re still in the middle of it. He’s only been here for less than a week, just over a week, but I think he’s doing a good job of just finding his way. Get his books, get to class - he’s been to some classes - he’s kind of living college life now. But you can imagine it’s like drinking out of a firehose. One minute you’re playing in a high school football game and the next minute you’re sitting in a college class. So, we’re just kind of helping him along, and I think the players have done a great job accepting him and helping him learn the ropes.”

All of that makes sense, but nowhere in his comments did Schiano attempt to slow down speculation about the plan for Wimsatt this season. He could have easily thrown out something like “he is nowhere ready to play guys” or “there is no plan to play him anytime soon”, but that didn’t happen.

While Schiano is stating things in a matter of fact way, it’s what he isn’t saying that is interesting.

For context, his answers came two days after Wimsatt was included on the 74-man travel roster. This happened despite the fact that he was not yet eligible to suit up due to NCAA rules regarding practice time requirements.

Why would Schiano give up a competitive advantage by keeping an eligible player in Piscataway for a player who couldn’t play in the actual game unless there was some other potential benefit? The only reason that makes sense is that they wanted Wimsatt to have the opportunity to be on the sidelines and take in the action close up. He could of course do this during home games, but to bring him on the first road game seems to indicate a level of urgency with his development.

In addition, Schiano said this week about Delaware, “One of the things is that they play a similarly structured defense that Syracuse played. They are different in how they do things, but at least the base structure is that 3-5-3 look that we saw last week.”

Perhaps Wimsatt was on the sideline to see the Syracuse defense up close because it’s possible he will see the field against Delaware this Saturday? Think I’m crazy?

Maybe it is crazy to think that Wimsatt will play in a college football game just two weeks after his last high school game, even if it is against an FCS opponent. Plenty of fans have already expressed their displeasure with me pondering this possibility and labeled it irresponsible. While I don’t think Wimsatt will definitely play against Delaware, I don’t think it makes sense to rule it out either.

Why?

Because if Schiano and offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson intend to play Wimsatt this season, getting him time against Delaware makes sense for his first game. Whether it’s a scripted series at some point when the outcome is still undecided, a specific package to mix in during a drive depending on the situation or simply to close out a blow out, the signs that Wimsatt will at a minimum play at some point this season seem to be there.

Still think I’m crazy to think Wimsatt will play this season?

Let’s lean in on other questions that Schiano has answered this week. When asked about how far away the offense is from being at the level they need to be, Schiano gave a clue.

“I don’t think we’re far off,” he said. “We are one or two guys away, and I’ve always heard coaches say that - that’s a famous saying by coaches - ‘We’re one or two guys away.’ No kidding. They are the one or two guys making the play, too. But I don’t think we are far.”

Could Wimsatt be one of those guys? It seems at a minimum a possibility and at best very likely. No position on the field is more important than quarterback, so the potential impact of Wimsatt taking snaps could be huge.

It seems undeniable that Wimsatt is now the most talented quarterback on the roster. He is the highest rated QB recruit in program history and earned a spot in the prestigious Elite 11 competition this past summer. Which leads us to a major issue with the offense right now....throwing the ball downfield.

Asked about the early season struggles in this area, Schiano said, “I’m a big believer in what you call those flyover yards. When you throw a deep ball, you fly over a lot of problems - a lot of missed blocks, a lot of potential penalties, a lot of bad things - you go right over it. So that’s one thing that we do have to do a better job on for sure.”

It’s no secret that the offensive line really struggled to protect starter Noah Vedral against Syracuse. Vedral played admirably and did deliver a 30 yard touchdown pass to Jovani Haskins. If they did play Wimsatt, it would be a risk due to his inexperience and unreliability of the offensive line. However, opposing defenses also would have to be more aware of the potential for the deep ball with Wimsatt under center. Loading up on the pass rush against Vedral poses less risk for opponents right now. Wimsatt would change that.

Aside from the value Wimsatt could potentially add on the field this season, playing the former 4-star recruit right away would send a positive message on the recruiting trail.

“There’s only been two of them in the history of college football, so going forward we got to think.” Schiano stated when asked about how recruiting is changing. “Is that going to become more normal? I don’t know. It’s awfully hard to manage your scholarships that way though. Really hard. We were fortunate that we had one available to do it with. But that’s going to have to really be factored into your roster management now. And I think it’s gonna have to be probably a little bit earlier in the process, knowing what young people want to do.”

Schiano is cleverly pointing out that Rutgers is at the forefront of changes in college football recruiting and a willingness to continue to adapt to be ahead of the curve. That’s a clear sign to future recruits that the opportunity to not only play at Rutgers right away, but to arrive early, is firmly on the table. Exhibit A is Wimsatt.

Of course playing right away wouldn’t work for every position, like for offensive linemen, and won’t be the overall norm. However, make no mistake about Wimsatt’s early arrival. It was a clear message sent across college football recruiting circles that Rutgers considers itself a big time program and is thinking and acting like it. If Wimsatt were to play, it would be unprecedented and put a spotlight on Rutgers in a big way. It would make headlines across the Big Ten and college football.

Does a coach who is thinking big by helping his top recruit join the team a season early do that just for perception purposes with future recruits or for national buzz? It’s not a bad worst case scenario, but what if the plan is to actually play Wimsatt this season?

What if they think Wimsatt can push a veteran team that already won three Big Ten games last season even father this season? The old thinking of sitting out a star prospect because that’s what is best for their development is just that....old. The world of college football is constantly changing and top recruits at national powers play right away pretty commonly now.

Of course, I don’t think Schiano and Gleeson would play Wimsatt if they weren’t confident that he was ready. As I wrote previously, his development is critical to long term progress for Rutgers. And maybe he won’t be ready until late in the season at the earliest. But if they feel he can help this team now, I firmly believe that Wimsatt will get the opportunity to do so.

On a media call before the Syracuse game, Schiano confirmed that Wimsatt began learning the offense before his arrival and said “it’s not like he started cold.” He then stated they’ll bring him along “at whatever rate he can come.”

While there is no way to know for sure, listen to what Schiano isn’t saying, as well as his actions.

Rutgers didn’t take Wimsatt on the road in a game he wasn’t eligible to play in because they intend to sit him out and automatically redshirt him this season, did they? And when given the chance this week to slow down speculation as to Wimsatt playing this season, Schiano didn’t cut it off.

When asked on Thursday about the milk reference he used in his pregame speech against Syracuse shown in the fantastically produced Knight Flicks that the program put out this week, Schiano said it was “team business” and he wouldn’t comment on it.

When Schiano doesn’t want to talk about something, he makes it very clear. He hasn’t done that about Gavin Wimsatt. A potential reason is that Rutgers intends to play Wimsatt this season.

During his introductory press conference when he was hired in December 2020, Schiano said “I used to say we are chasing a moving target. Now I’m going to say it this way: We got to pass a moving target, and those are big targets, and it’s going to take every single person, everyone.”

College football is constantly changing. Schiano has already proven deft at utilizing the transfer portal to transform the roster quicker than imagined. Now he has proven to be innovative with getting his star quarterback on the roster a year early. Schiano isn’t chasing moving targets, he is trying to pass them. Rutgers might just take a chance to do that quicker than expected this season with the arm of Gavin Wimsatt.