By Danny Friedman
Kyle Flood and the football program gave a few hundred fans a preview of the 2014 team Saturday as they hosted an open practice inside the practice bubble. Saturday’s practice also marked the first time the team put the pads on. From an intriguing quarterback battle to changes to the coaching staff and on both sides of the ball, there was plenty for the fan to see in the third practice of the spring.
We will start with most intriguing story of the spring: the quarterback competition. Gary Nova, Chris Laviano, Blake Rankin, Mike Bimonte and Devin Ray all saw reps in front of the crowd. Through the first two spring practices, each quarterback had seen equal reps. The equal reps continued on Saturday. Before spring practice, Kyle Flood had made it known that he wanted to give the quarterbacks equal reps for the first few practices then start to sort out the competition and the reps accordingly. However, it did feel like walk-on redshirt freshman Devin Ray saw less snaps than the other four quarterbacks. It also looked like Gary Nova and Chris Laviano took a few more snaps with the first team offense than the likes of Blake Rankin and Mike Bimonte.
In terms of performance, no quarterback stood out. The five quarterbacks each made a few nice throws and missed on a few. I would say Nova had the best performance as he made a few more downfield throws and looked more comfortable than the other quarterbacks. From the share of snaps on Saturday and Flood’s displeasure with quarterback performance during the first practice, it looks like the quarterback competition will be narrowed down in the spring and become a smaller competition in the summer. I think the quarterback competition will ultimately become a battle between Gary Nova and Chris Laviano.
“The Fridge” is ready to bring a new-look offense to Rutgers, but who will be running the show?
For the first time, Rutgers fans saw the former University of Maryland head coach donning the block R. Ralph Friedgen, the highest-paid and highest-profile assistant coach in Rutgers history, will have an immense say in determining the winner of the quarterback battle and the team’s success in the Big Ten. At least two thirds of the plays called in the various stages of the practice were handoffs out of the I-formation. While the terminology and playbook is going to be different going from Ron Prince to Friedgen, the receivers ran crisp routes.
Despite having a new leader, the offensive personnel did not change very much. The entire offensive line returns as Kaleb Johnson, Keith Lumpkin, Betim Bujari, Chris Muller, and Taj Alexander are working with new offensive line coach Mitch Browning. Paul James is expected to have a big 2014 season for the Scarlet Knights, but he was not practicing on Saturday. Instead, sophomore Justin Goodwin got the bulk of the carries as well as redshirt sophomore Des Peoples. Both players looked shifty and explosive and will be a nice compliment to Paul James. The offense did look different in that Brandon Coleman is no longer there. After coming off an upper body injury that forced him to sit out at the end of the year, Leonte Carroo looked healthy and ready to fill the number one receiver role. Ruhann Peele, Andre Patton, and Carlton Agudosi also looked sharp and saw a lot of reps as they are going to need to produce in 2014. Tyler Kroft is expected to pick up where he left off last season, but he was out with an injury on Saturday. Many Rutgers fans were happy to see Mike Teel coaching them as he enters his first year as graduate assistant.
While the Scarlet Knights return a lot on offense and some younger guys will see increased roles, the story is much of the same for defense. Joe Rossi now is leading the defense after receiving the coordinator position this offseason. The most notable defensive change comes in the position swap between Kevin Snyder and Steve Longa. Longa, the team’s leading tackler last season, is now playing weak side linebacker. Snyder will now take Longa’s position at middle linebacker as his bigger frame is expected to be better suited for the position. Ian Thomas was back out there for the Scarlet Knights after leaving the team in October. Thomas and Cioffi took many of the first teams reps, but this will also be a competition as Gareef Glashen was out with a lower body injury and Nadir Barnwell is also competing for time. Jonathan Aiken and Delon Stephenson are competing to take over the free safety position vacated by Jeremy Deering. One up and coming player that saw a lot of time and looks ready to contribute this year is redshirt freshman linebacker Myles Nash. After putting on weight this off-season, it looks like Rossi expects him to make plays for the defense. Redshirt freshman Andre Hunt also had a nice practice and made a few plays at the safety position. With the core of the defense returning, the unit looks to make huge strides in 2014.
Stay with WRSU as Rutgers gears up for its first season in the Big Ten. WRSU will have the play-by-play action of the spring game on April 26th.