Rutgers needed change and it had to be decisive. Enter Chris Ash. In the six months since Ash's takeover, Rutgers is different in almost every way. Whether or not Ash's changes were the right ones is yet to be determined but the program needed a reboot after an ugly end to Kyle Flood's four-year tenure and Ash delivered.
From nutrition to conditioning to work ethic, it was a new Rutgers in the offseason. The only changes, however, that matter to Big Ten competition will be the program's ability to prove itself on Saturdays.
Rutgers brings low expectations after a 4-8 season, and Ash is not shy about the long-term rebuild in Piscataway. The “Ash Era” officially kicks off at Washington on Sept. 3 in the debut of a new offense.
Gone are the days of a traditional pro-style offense at Rutgers. New offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer brings the Houston/Ohio State high-powered offense to Ash's program but it will not be an instant or easy transition. With an offense filled with athletes recruited to run pro-style, the changes were challenging in spring practice.
Still an open quarterback battle in name, veteran Chris Laviano enters training camp as the favorite to retain his job however classmate Hayden Rettig, an LSU transfer, continues to push for time. Laviano brings more mobility and experience but Rettig brings the strongest arm in the program.
Rutgers is deepest at running back, where juniors Josh Hicks and Robert Martin are both dynamic weapons. Hicks is the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl MVP and Martin called the new offense a “running back's dream.”
At wide receiver, no one man can replace what is lost in Leonte Carroo. Athletic slot weapon Janarion Grant stepped up as the top target at wide receiver and will be a focal point of the spread offense. Andre Patton showed the most as a potential replacement for Carroo, but look for Rutgers to spread the love between four or five players.
Rutgers returns four starters on the offensive line but they may not all retain jobs. While Chris Muller and J.J. Denman missed action in spring, Zack Heeman and Marcus Applefield impressed as their replacements. Tariq Cole is the leading candidate to replace Keith Lumpkin at left tackle.
Ash is one of the brightest defensive minds in college football, and his defensive line brings both depth and experience as an expected strength of the team. Former five-star recruit Darius Hamilton returns for a fifth season after knee injuries held him out for every game except Penn State last year. Both Sebastian Joseph and Julian Pinnix-Odrick asserted themselves as starters at nose tackle and defensive end respectively. Rutgers adds depth with graduate transfer Malachi Moore and a bulked up Quanzell Lambert as edge rushers.
To quote Ash, linebacker was a mess for Rutgers football. All three starters moved on to professional careers after last year and the spring became a grab bag because of it. Look for Deonte Roberts, Najee Clayton and Trevor Morris to be the first three on the field for training camp.
The defensive secondary was a liability last year, and could be again as Rutgers searches for the right fits. Senior Anthony Cioffi stepped up at safety with the other spot likely going to Kiy Hester or Saquan Hampton. At cornerback, Rutgers started three true freshmen last season. All three are back but may not start once Ross Taylor-Douglas and Kobe Marfo arrive for training camp.
Ash transformed the Ohio State defense during the title run of two years ago. The transformation likely won't be as fast at Rutgers, where some of his best potential contributors are not yet on the roster.
Look for position battles at both kicker and punter for Rutgers in training camp after 2015 starters Kyle Federico and Joey Roth moved on after graduation. At kicker, the battle comes down to junior walk-on David Bonagura, who was the starter in spring, and incoming preferred walk-on Jared Smolar from Indiana. Punter Michael Cintron has a lead for Rutgers, but if Australian fifth-year senior Tim Gleeson can get healthy after surgery, he will compete for the job.
Alan Lucy returns as Rutgers' scholarship long snapper after he showed major improvement as a sophomore.
Pasco (Fla.) High coach Tom Mchugh famously said before Janarion Grant's first game that you could put 11 men inside a phone booth with the electric wide receiver and still nobody would touch him. Grant proved him right on special teams, where he is a legitimate All-American candidate, and the new Rutgers offense makes him equally dangerous as a slot receiver. The 13 touches on 84 plays in the spring game are just a taste of Grant's involvement in the spread.
Rutgers has two graduate transfers in line for spots on the two-deep, and Taylor-Douglas brings a unique story. A Michigan grad transfer with two years of eligibility, he projects to start in the defensive secondary for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights also add 6-foot-7 defensive end Malachi Moore from Boston College. He fits well into the rotation for Rutgers, and could be one of the better pass rushers in his return to New Jersey.
2015 Record: 4-8 (1-7 B1G)
2015 Final Rank: N/A
2015 Postseason: N/A
Starters Returning: 15 (7O, 7D, 1ST)
Starters Lost: 10 (4O, 4D, 2ST)
In: HC Chris Ash, OC/QB Drew Mehringer, WR Jafar Williams, RB Zak Kuhr, OL AJ Blazek, DC/LB Jay Niemann, DL Shane Burnham, CB Aaron Henry, S Bill Busch, ST/TE Vince Okruch. Ash cleared house at Rutgers both with on-field coaches and behind-the-scenes roles. With the exceptions of some operations and academic staff members, the staff is completely overhauled from Flood's all the way down the the gameday disc jockey.null