What we have learned so far

PISCATAWAY — Two years ago, spring training was canceled for Rutgers and the rest of college football as the pandemic began to spread across the country.

Last year, the Scarlet Knights suffered a COVID outbreak within the program that forced spring training to be postponed for almost a month, culminating in a Scarlet-White game in late May.

Finally, this year Rutgers was able to enjoy its first normal spring season since Greg Schiano’s return to Piscataway.

And every practice has been critical.

The Scarlet Knights are a much younger team than they have been in recent seasons. There are several positional battles in both attack and defence, with young players trying to prove themselves and working to earn their roles.

Schiano spoke about the competitiveness within the program. Some of his players echoed him.

“There’s a youth to this team that’s very exciting,” safety Avery Young said. “Me as a vet and some of the guys that ended up coming back with me, we have the same energy. Really competitive, very energetic.

Rutgers has held seven practices so far and played its first Scrimmage on Saturday at SHI Stadium.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

The quarterback situation

In early spring, Schiano said the plan was for Noah Vedral to take the first reps of each training period while Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon rotate. Schiano said that would be the case at least until the team could get “gradable scrums”.

QBs as a whole have had their ups and downs in the spring. Schiano said at one point that they had been “constantly inconsistent”.

This continued in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“The quarterback’s play today was a bit inconsistent in my opinion,” Schiano said. “You could probably say that for the whole spring. There are very good things and then sloppy things. Whether it’s thinking too much or not understanding everything, but there are some things we’ve done nonchalantly that you can’t do. Every down is gold and you should treat it as such.

Quarterbacks, Gavin Rupp, Gavin Wimsatt and Noah Vedral as Rutgers practice this morning at their football training facility in Piscataway, NJ on March 8, 2022.

There’s still a long way to go before Rutgers plays Boston College in the season opener, but the quarterback situation will remain a hot topic. Schiano has made it clear that if any of the younger quarterbacks were to take the starting job at Vedral, they would have to earn it.

Will that happen by the end of training camp? That remains to be seen.

The state of the offensive line

This is another big topic. It will stay that way too.

Rutgers have made four transfers to bolster their depth on the O line, and that’s in addition to the seven linemen the Scarlet Knights have signed as part of their 2022 recruiting class.

Schiano has been straightforward in his assessment of the unit over the past two seasons: it just hasn’t been good enough.

Rutgers fiddled with the line, trying to find the right combination. But consistency remained elusive.

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Now Schiano and offensive line coach Augie Hoffmann have more options — transfers JD DiRenzo, Curtis Dunlap Jr., Willie Tyler III and Mike Ciaffoni all bring a solid combination of size and experience. They face Rutgers returning linemen for the starting positions, a group that includes Hollin Pierce, Ireland Brown, Gus Zilinskas and Bryan Felter.

Again, it’s still early. There are many more assessments to be made.

Like the quarterbacks on Saturday, the line was inconsistent in the scrum.

“There were some good things, but not enough,” Schiano said. I will have four more. We just have to keep building it. It’s a work in progress but I think the arrow is up. For a while after Reggie (Sutton) got injured, the arrow was even and even pointed a little down a bit at times.

The fact that the arrow is pointing up in Schiano’s view is a big step in the right direction. The key is to keep it there.

Redesigned defensive staff

Schiano’s coaching staff is very different in 2022, especially on the defensive end.

Rutgers has a new coordinator (Joe Harasymiak), defensive line coach (Marquise Watson), linebackers coach (Corey Hetherman), safeties coach (Drew Lascari) and cornerbacks coach (Mark Orphey).

Schiano said he liked what he saw from the new band.

Rutgers defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak during practice as Rutgers trained this morning at his football training facility in Piscataway, NJ on March 8, 2022.

“I really like the chemistry and the energy they have,” Schiano said. “It starts with our coordinator, Joe Harasymiak. Just the group of them, they have really good chemistry about them. I like to be with them. I think it will only get better as they spend more time together.

Young said Harasymiak made good first impressions.

“He’s just a reliable guy. Everyone trusted him from the moment he arrived,” Young said. “He didn’t say too much, he told us he was going to observe first. got to know each other and we enjoyed it for sure.Now it’s about us being a family and playing together.

The depth of the defensive line

This unit has a chance to be really strong.

Rutgers must replace nose guard Julius Turner and Mike Tverdov, but between returning veterans (including Mayan Ahanotu and Ifeanyi Maijeh) and young players (including Aaron Lewis, Kyonte Hamilton and Cam’Ron Stewart), and even more in the pipeline, the Scarlet Knights D-line has quality depth and talent.

Watson and several of his players have made it clear that there is strong camaraderie within the unit, and that translates to the field.

“These young guys, I’m telling you, they feed off each other,” Watson said, “they believe in each other and they have great leaders helping them.”

Chris Iseman is the author of Rutgers Football Beats for USA TODAY Network-New Jersey. For unlimited access to all Rutgers analytics, news and more, please subscribe today and download our app.

Email: iseman@northjersey.comTwitter: @chrisiseman