Spring practices are already underway in New Jersey as Rutgers begins a third football season under head coach Chris Ash. After taking over a messy situation, Ash has been determined to craft a tougher and more physical program that can compete in the Big Ten. So far, the results have not quite panned out, but this upcoming season could be the real litmus test for the multi-year rebuild Ash is overseeing.
This spring comes with a number of opportunities at Rutgers with a new offensive coordinator and a good handful of positions on the depth chart to be settled between a mix of returning players, early enrollees and transfers. With plenty of work to focus on, there is no time to waste this spring as Ash looks to improve on a four-win season to start putting together a possible path to a bowl game.
5 Storylines to Watch During Rutgers’s Spring Practice
1. Nowhere to go but up on offense
A combination of a lack of overall talent and injuries has kept the offense at Rutgers from being a threat to anyone in the Big Ten. There is plenty of room for improvement, which will be up to new offensive coordinator John McNulty and his adapted pro-style approach that worked once before with Rutgers his last time on the sidelines with Greg Schiano along with a dash of tempo to keep in line with today’s game.
2. The search for a starting QB
One of the main tasks for revamping the offense will be to find a starting quarterback. Head coach Chris Ash has said he hopes to have a started figured out by the end of the spring, suggesting last year’s starter Giovanni Rescigno is no sure bet. Watch for freshman Artur Sitkowski, a former Miami commitment and an IMG Academy product, to make some noise in the spring after enrolling early to make a push for consideration.
3. Beefing up on the line
One aspect of the Rutgers program Ash was quick to address was the strength and conditioning of the players. One area that has been a massive disadvantage in Big Ten play has been the stability of the offensive and defensive lines. Rutgers will need to continue getting stronger and more physical in the trenches, which should continue to be a focus this spring. This is Year 3 of Ash trying to improve this area of the roster, and a couple spots on the offensive and defensive lines are up for grabs.
4. Who replaces Janarion Grant as the playmaker?
Rutgers had one of the top playmakers in the Big Ten for the past couple of seasons with Grant, but he is gone now. Is there a replacement ready to step into that role on offense and potentially special teams? Grant’s departure also means Rutgers needs a new return man to count on, so pay attention to who is returning kicks and punts to get an idea of which direction the Scarlet Knights go on special teams.
5. Jon Hilliman to the rescue in the running game?
With a few running backs from last year moving on, Rutgers was fortunate to have a landing spot available for Hilliman, a graduate transfer from Boston College. A former starter for the Eagles, Hilliman should plug the hole on the depth chart as a likely starter for the Scarlet Knights after rushing for 638 yards and five touchdowns last season. If Rutgers can improve along its offensive line, then Hilliman could easily become a solid running threat in the Big Ten this fall.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.