The pro-style offense went hand in hand with Rutgers for as long as the football program’s lengthy history reaches, but that changes now under the regime of coach Chris Ash.
Appointing Drew Mehringer as offensive coordinator, the installation of the Scarlet Knights’ new spread offense is a work in progress after the spring and summer. Training camp is the next step, and Ash both acknowledges and embraces the challenge.
“Yeah, it is a big change,” he said. “But I feel good about the foundation that we were able to lay this spring. There were a number of things that they would’ve liked to have gotten in that we did not get in, and that was by design. We wanted to focus on a few concepts and get good at a few things. But the mental understanding of how to execute the offense, how to operate with tempo at a high speed I think is there.”
Ash’s spread implementation came in part from influences by Bret Bielema and Urban Meyer during his recent stints on each coach’s staff. The end result of a spread offense came down to both its potential on the field and its attraction on the recruiting trail.
“Two reasons (we moved to the spread) – I went against that offense everyday in practice and I know that challenges it creates and presents for a defensive coach and defensive staff as you get ready for a game plan,” Ash said. “And the other one was the players that we could recruit to that offense in our region. We’re going to focus our recruiting efforts in the Northeast.”
That philosophy already paid off in the form of some of the top skill players in the state, with dual-threat quarterback commit Johnathan Lewis leading the way.
Rutgers also had four wide receivers jump aboard, led by top New Jersey wide out Bo Melton, plus the state’s top two running backs in Jonathan Taylor and Jon Lovett.
Trickling down to prospects in the class of 2018, the staff is in good positioning for the likes of Wayne (N.J.) DePaul Catholic quarterback Shelton Applewhite Jr. and Rumson (N.J.) Fair Haven tight end Elijah McAllister, who fit the scheme Mehringer molded from his Houston days.
“I think there are tremendous skill players in that area that wanna be a part of our offense and can excel in our offense,” Ash said.
While the spread’s relation to recruitment offers optimism for attracting prospects, Ash brought the concept full circle by weighing a quarterback situation and its impact under the new scheme right now. Rutgers opens a four-man competition under center as soon as training camp kicks off.
When the pads go on and the season starts for real at Washington, the position receives tight oversight.
“After every game, we’ll sit down and evaluate every player — quarterback especially,” he said. “We’ll go through a number of things to determine whether one, he performed at a championship level, he gave us a chance to win the game and if he didn’t, why? And what is the path as we move forward through the season, is that something that continues week after week after week? If that is, then we have to make a change.”
Until then, the goal remains on gradually rebuilding the new offense.
“The development continued this summer through film study, through player workouts and things that they did, and it’ll continue to go through training camp and honestly through the whole first year,” Ash said. “The offense will not be a high-performing machine probably for a while like we want it to be. Doesn’t mean we can’t score points and beat people, no, but we’re hoping to have a very high-performing, efficient offense sometime.”