Tuesday Practice Report: Senior Rutgers Sendoff

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers coach Chris Ash explains his apologies to the senior class for a 2-8 season in year one of his rebuild. Offensive line coach AJ Blazek breaks down his leadership, as well as the keys to development for his young linemen.

The Headline – Rutgers carries a seven-game skid and its third shutout loss of the season into Saturday for Senior Night, and the conditions don’t get any easier as a matchup with No. 9 Penn State awaits.

Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash is aware of the challenge the Nittany Lions (8-2, 6-1) bring to the table.

“Right now, they’re playing with good balance on offense, seem to be getting better on defense,” Ash said of Penn State. “They’re front is playing aggressive, but just see a team that’s playing with more and more confidence each week, and the thing is that I notice about their football team is really in the fourth quarter.

“They’ve been able to find a way to win some close ballgames, to pull away in some close ballgames and they take advantage of the opponents’ mistakes and capitalize on them and they found a way to win some games and it appears to me they’re playing with a lot of confidence and it continues to grow each week.”

The last win for Rutgers (2-8, 0-7) came Sept. 17 in a 38-27 triumph over New Mexico. Since then, the tough string of losses created a disappointing reality for a senior class that led the program into the Big Ten two years ago.

But in the first year of a rebuild, their impact means more than the wins and losses to Ash.

“We’re in the first year of a building process and we’re excited about the foundation that we’ve laid, and a lot of that’s been laid because of the commitment that the seniors have made,” Ash said. “They’ve bought into what we’re doing, they’ve help laid the foundation of how we’re going to work, how we’re going to train, how we’re going to practice and just how we’re going to conduct ourselves on a day-to-day basis. And they’re helping the younger kids with leadership and helping improve and establish some daily habits that will lead to success some day down the road. So I can’t say enough about the senior class.”

Come Saturday, Ash hopes to send them out the right way.

“I apologize to them over and over about we’re not getting the wins the way that we want,” he said. “But they help lay out a very solid foundation that I’m extremely excited about moving forward and it’s my job — really, the organization’s job — to give them an opportunity to try to end their career here on a positive note.”

Worth Noting – One day after offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer described Rutgers as a developmental program, offensive line coach AJ Blazek broke down what it means for his first- and second-year linemen.

With three departing seniors, playing time is up for grabs in 2017.

Our guys are in meetings, in practice, they watch everything with the varsity guys just so they know what's going on. I know there's a lot of schools, they don't include those guys this time of year. For us, that's a huge part of it. That's part of a development program is our young guys are developing whether they're the ones on the tape or not. Out here, it's an extra five minutes, 10 minutes, those guys are hungry to learn. That's what makes it fun to show up every day.”

Quote of the Day – “[J.J. Denman] is a guy that's played a lot of football here. He brings some experience, and the biggest thing he's done the last couple of weeks is really help get Kamaal [Seymour] ready. You talk about a good teammate, now. A lot of guys could complain about that or really moan about 'this was my job.' He's been hurt. And JJ not at 100 percent is not as good as Kamaal has been. That's why it's been as it is. We'll see these next couple of weeks. The big thing he's done is he's been all in, been a team guy about it. That's the reason those three seniors have been good for us.” – Blazek on Denman's senior season.

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