Head coach Chris Ash confirmed the worst-case scenario for the two seniors in his Monday press conference.
“Both starters meant a lot to the team and there wasn't any one more important than another,” Ash said of Grant and Lambert. “They are both really important. Just next man in, it’s football in general and injuries are part of the game, we all know that. And it’s next man in. We’ll move on, the next guy will step up and we’ll go out and play productive football for us and we’re excited to see who that is.”
With a road trip to No. 2 Ohio State (3-0) around the corner, the Scarlet Knights (2-2, 0-1) do not have the time to feel bad for themselves.
On offense, Rutgers looks for red-shirt freshman Jawuan Harris to assume Grant’s roles on offense and special teams. On defense, junior walk-on Darnell Davis is next in line to replace Lambert at defensive end.
“Are there certain things we may not be able to do if certain individuals are not in there? Yeah, absolutely,” Ash said. “But to think we are going to go change our offensive system or defensive system because of injury, that's not going to happen.”
Harris, who has eight receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns, expressed his readiness to step in and do whatever he can for Grant. Both Harris and John Tsimis have slot experience as well as freshman Dacoven Bailey, who returns to the receiver room this week.
“I’m just going to step up and do that best I can, just play my game,” said Harris, who started the past two games. “I can’t think about that, just make plays as best I can.”
With experience as an outside receiver and in the slot, Harris brings his versatility as the replacement for Grant.
It remains to be seen how much the play calling will change without Grant. Harris said that offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer wanted to go over the game plan on Tuesday.
But if it comes down to it, the 5-foot-9, 182-pounder said he is comfortable with the do-it-all duties Grant had in handoffs and direct snaps.
“I’m comfortable,” Harris said. “I wouldn’t say I’m as dynamic as Janarion — Janarion is Janarion — but I feel comfortable. I feel like I can do some things, so I’ll keep working at it and get a little better.”
On the opposite side of the ball, Davis takes on a larger role. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder’s duties grew from the previous three years when he earned a spot in the rotation as a pass rusher on certain packages.
Now Davis is the next man up to replace what he called an unsung hero in Lambert.
“I have to fill the shoes of Quanzell, which are probably shoes that can’t be filled,” Davis said. “But … my teammates trust me, I trust my teammates and I want to take that opportunity and run with it. The door’s open. I just have to go and get it. I just have to do my job, keep the mental errors out of the game and just keep working and keep pushing and I’ll do all right.”
While Ash said Rutgers could also explore other options to replace Lambert on the line, defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said Davis shows promise from his early-season reps as the backup.
“Darnell’s played well,” Niemann said. “He’s had quite a few snaps under his belt and you’re never as good as without guys as you are with guys, so we hate seeing a kid not being able to play. He had gotten off to a really good start. But Darnell’s played well, and now he’s got to play well more often.”
Davis and classmate Myles Nash have the most experience behind Lambert, but sophomore Jimmy Hogan and redshirt freshman Ron’Dell Carter could also contribute.
Regardless of who goes in, Davis said the defensive line will be ready.
“Jimmy and Ron’Dell, they’re hard workers and I’m not just saying that,” Davis said. “They get on the field and play. They know the plays. They can just get on right now without saying anything. It’s just who the coaches want to play.
“Coach (Ash) has no doubt — he believes in them, we believe in them. And I was saying last week, I feel like the whole D-line as a unit, we’re trusting each other. Just because we might be young doesn’t mean we can’t play. I think they’re ready to play, without a doubt.”