It has been one week since Rutgers Football reported to training camp.
Players and coaches have gotten their feet wet to this point and we will begin to see practices being taken up a notch. The pads are coming out and scrimmages will begin soon. This is when head coach Greg Schiano and his staff will have a chance to judge the team in different ways.
So far, Schiano is pleased with the energy around the team but there are still some kinks that need to be worked out.
“I really like the guys, the effort and energy they’re putting forth,” Schiano said following practice on Monday. “The execution is not where we need it to be but I don’t expect it to be yet. We have five installs in now. That’s a lot of football on their plate. It’s a lot to know, a lot to remember. What I liked is that they continually chopped over the course of the practice.”
The secondary for the Scarlet Knights is expected to be one of the strong points of, not just the defense, but of the entire team this season.
In 2021, Avery Young transitioned to safety and did it without a glitch. He started 12 games there and was second on the team with 81 tackles. The Scarlet Knights seem to be strong at safety, led by Young and Christian Izien. There is a chance that Rutgers uses both on the field at the same time.
“Right now, we’re trying to work through the different combinations but that’s one we worked through as well,” Schiano said.
To go along with a strong safety unit, Rutgers returns its top cornerback in Max Melton. He dealt with some off-the-field issues in 2021 but was able to return to the field and show that he is a legitimate cornerback.
Melton adds firepower to a secondary that has a chance to be explosive for Rutgers.
“Max is as talented as any of them,” Schiano said. “What he’s working on right now is consistent. Every play, consistently getting his alignment, understanding what the receiver is giving, what kind tips the receiver is giving to them, and the finishing the play with great eye discipline. He’s getting better and better. He has a chance to be a real good one.”
Aron Cruickshank’s impact on offense
Aron Cruickshank suffered a knee injury against Wisconsin last year that kept him out for the remainder of the season. Not only did Rutgers lose one of the best return men in the nation when Cruickshank went down, it lost an offensive weapon on the outside.
“Aron worked himself into being a really good receiver, not only a return man. He had the surgery and we were very concerned. We’re not out of the woods yet,” Schiano said.
Cruickshank was third on the team with 20 catches and 244 yards before his season was ended. He is expected to be a weapon once again for a unit that made some big additions in hopes of replacing Bo Melton.
The Scarlet Knights added Taj Harris and Sean Ryan in the transfer portal. Harris enjoyed success during his time at Syracuse and was an elite receiver in the ACC. Both Harris and Ryan are experienced receivers who can make an impact. If Cruickshank is able to return, he brings versatility.
“He’s making progress and taking care of himself and healing well and he’s playing. He’s not full load yet but he’s playing. We’ll keep bringing him along at a steady pace,” Schiano said.
Tyreem Powell expected to take big step
It is clear that the linebacker position is one that is a big question mark for the Scarlet Knights. They suffered some losses from last year’s team — including Drew Singleton, whose appeal was recently denied by the NCAA.
Tyreem Powell is a linebacker that is gaining attention as training camp goes on. He will be expected to take a step forward this season.
“He really works hard at it,” Schiano said of Powell. “He’s physically gifted and really wants to be great. That combination usually works as long as you work hard.”
With a young group like Rutgers has in the middle of the defense, Schiano acknowledged that it is about learning on the fly and limiting mistakes.
“He doesn’t have a ton of experience, like our whole linebacker crew,” Schiano said. “That will be the key, getting experience and hopefully limiting mistakes.”
Scrimmages remain the key of training camp
College football teams get a month of training camp to prepare for the season. During that time, they do not see any other teams but the one they are on.
“You don’t get preseason games in college football, so scrimmages are your preseason games,” Schiano said. “You don’t get to scrimmage another team like in high school so what you see is what you get on opening day.”
For a team like Rutgers with decisions to be made all over the field, these scrimmages are used to see how players react in game situations.
It is impossible to create a Saturday afternoon, Big Ten atmosphere but the coaching staff will have to do what it can when scrimmages begin. For Schiano, it is all about who can make split-second decisions in game-like situations.
“We run a really efficient and effective operation, as coaches on the sideline and in the press box,” Schiano said. “It’s really who can handle the ebbs and flows of a game situation, being able to think about the situation and play accordingly. Some guys are better at that than others. For some, it’s experience or the love of the game and how much they study it.”