You’d be excused for thinking Rutgers football was boring, but with the hire of Chris Ash and his subsequent hire of offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer that stereotype can be thrown out the window.
Mehringer comes to the Scarlet Knights with a reputation for fast-paced offense and record-breaking results. In his one and only season as offensive coordinator at James Madison, Mehringer set the world on fire with over 1,000 offensive plays and an average of over 484 total yards per game. That was in 2014, and last season he got some tutelage from Ash’s former counterpart at Ohio State — Tom Herman.
That combination of personal experience and tutelage at Houston under Herman means this team is changing things up and no longer will be going with the pro-style offense. For Rutgers’ personnel, that means a whole lot is changing.
Can Rutgers adjust quickly or will this be a more long-term project? Let’s look at what Mehringer is working with heading in to the season.
No position is more ill-equipped to run the full hurry up spread offense that Mehringer is implementing than quarterback. Every member of the Scarlet Knights’ quarterback group has been recruited with the pro-style offense in mind.
What is known is that this is going to be a work in progress between the coordinator and quarterbacks and that a battle is afoot for the starting job. Last season’s starter, Chris Laviano, appeared to come away from spring with a slight lead over Hayden Rettig, but a lot can happen between spring and fall.
Should Retting find himself understanding the offense better and showcasing more mobility, he very well could be winning this battle in the fall.
With a more mobile option wanted, Rutgers wasn’t able to really find it on the recruiting trail quickly enough to just hand the reins to a freshman either. The future realistically lies in the hands of 2017 in-state commit Jonathan Lewis of St. Peters Prep.
That’s a year off, and it could be longer if he comes in and isn’t immediately ready too. So, it is safe to say Mehringer may still be adjusting his offensive wants to work best with what he actually has on hand in 2016.
While a lot of things are changing for the Rutgers’ offense, perhaps the best bit of news comes from the fact that they have a group of running backs that could be game changers in 2016. Juniors Josh Hicks and Robert Martin are back after forming a solid, but at times held back 1-2 punch last season.
Hicks and Martin combined for 1,437 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Good numbers, but ones this new coaching staff are going to want to see get even better given the transition that is happening around them.
The bad news? All of that talent struggled to produce big results in Big Ten play last season. As a team, Rutgers averaged just 169.9 rushing yards per game and that was only good enough for a seventh place finish in the B1G.
Should something happen to Hicks and/or Martin, this team is extremely thin on experienced ball carriers. Only fellow senior Justin Goodwin returns as a running back with carries that aren’t named Hicks or Martin, and he had just 11 rushing attempts last season.
The depth will benefit from having 3-star signee Trey Sneed around since January and don’t be surprised to see him earn some major carries as this team needs the youngster.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
As big of a question mark as quarterback might be, Mehringer has to be licking his chops with the skill set available to him at wide receiver. No player may benefit more from this new offense and its high tempo than speedy senior WR Janarion Grant.
Joining him on the starting line of wide receivers will be fellow senior Andre Patton, and the duo combined for 69 receptions, 784 yards but just two touchdowns. They’ll need to show something in stretching the field, as both were used more around the line of scrimmage in 2015.
Patton may be best in that role, while Grant’s speed and his elusiveness are a perfect match for the tempo and shorter passing game that is expected from Mehringer’s offense.
The biggest name to watch in this new scheme is junior Jon Tsimis, whom coaches and outside observers raved about this spring. If he can replicate that performance in fall camp he may win a starting job. Tsimis will have to battle senior Carlton Agudosi for that final starting wide receiver spot, and we’d be surprised if he doesn’t win it.
Rutgers may not use the tight end as much as in the past, but when they do look for senior Nick Arcidiacono to be the main target.
As Mehringer looks to transform the Rutgers offense, no position is undergoing a bigger and more needed transformation than that of the offensive line. Gone is the need for maulers and downhill blocking and in is the need for athletic and lean offensive linemen. Still, this is an experienced offensive line and if they can continue improving from spring to fall it could become the strength of this team.
Old starters are slimming down and having to showcase more athletic ability than ever before, and that will be the biggest question mark of fall camp for this group — can it do what is necessary in the new speed-orientated offense?
If there is a strength of this offensive line, it is the right side of it as two seniors occupy the starting spots in right tackle JJ Denman and Chris Muller. The latter is a three-year starter, while Denman has become one of the most impressive of the group. He also will have the biggest adjustment given the read-option looks and the changing tempo of this offense will key on what is happening with his blocking.
Fifth-year senior Derrick Nelson will be the starting center, meanwhile junior Dorian Miller returns after starting 10 games last season and sophomore Tariq Cole appears to have taken his game experience last season and toned down his body to lock in on the starting left tackle position.
Depth is a concern given the vast experience of this starting group, but some talent exists in names like sophomore Marcus Applefield and freshman Jonah Jackson.
Our Projected Starting Lineup
WR: Janarion Grant, Sr.
WR: Andre Patton, Sr.
WR: Jon Tsimis, Jr.
TE: Nick Arcidiacono, Sr.
LT: Tariq Cole, So.
LG: Dorian Miller, Jr.
C: Derrick Nelson, Sr.
RG: Chris Muller, Sr.
RT: JJ Denman, Sr.
RB: Josh Hicks, Sr.
QB: Chris Laviano, Jr.