Tomorrow morning begins a new season of Rutgers football as the team will take the field for the first time since the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl. Earlier today, head coach Kyle Flood held his spring press conference and here's a rundown of the state of the team.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Brandon Coleman will be on the shelf through the spring with a knee issue that isn't likely to effect his status into the summer.
"We, and when I say we I mean myself, the medical staff, Brandon Coleman and his family, have decided to do a minor procedure on his knee," Flood said. "We thought this was the best time to do that and he will not participate in spring practice."
Flood highlighted the rest of the injury situation.
"David Milewski has looked great coming of an ACL, but still is not ready for contact drills. Matt McBride is coming off a shoulder procedure and will not do contact drills this spring. Nadir Barnwell, who had a shoulder procedure after his state championship game, will be out there but will not hit this spring. And Kenny Kirksey is coming off a foot issue and we hope to have him back by week three of the spring. He will be limited in what he can do."
On the move
Some players will be lining up at new spots, among them is senior Jeremy Deering who will begin the spring as the first-team free safety.
"We moved Jeremy Deering to safety and he will start as our starting safety from day one," Flood said. "I think that is a position he has looked good at. Now he'll be there full time and we will be watching that."
On the defensive line, senior Jamil Merrell will move back out to defensive end where he will start opposite Marcus Thompson. Both are tradional "E' defensive ends in Rutgers' scheme which may be changing to suit its personnel. Thompson will play the 'R' end position, but it doesn't look to be the same type of 'R' that Rutgers has used in the past.
"The most important thing for us as coaches is to never get so wrapped up in the scheme that we don't get the best players out there," Flood said. "To have the opportunity to put Marcus Thompson and Jamil Merrell on the field at the same time at those two defensive end spots, that's what really drove that decision."
The Michael Larrow experiment at tight end will continue as the fifth-year senior will get his first extensive run at the position.
"What we see in Michael at tight end is an athletic player who is strong enough to block on the line of scrimmage," Flood said. "That's what we're looking for and I think that's where he can help this football team. He has done that on a very minimal level, but what I've seen I have been pleased with. I think Michael is excited about the change. I think Michael is excited about the opportunity. Now, it's just about going out there every day and getting better at his skill set."
Lastly, Ian Thomas will continue to work as a cornerback, a move that was made last December thanks to the urging of Logan Ryan. Flood explained how that situation came about.
"I was standing next to Logan in practice one day and Ian was covering one of the flyers on punt and Logan said to me, 'Coach, you should try this guy at corner.' I said, 'Really?' He said, 'Absolutely.' I said, 'OK. You should tell him that and see if he wants to do it.' He said, 'I already did, he wants to do it.' I said, 'OK, not a problem.' So, we tried him there and we were really pleased. He has got great feet. He had a willingness to tackle right away, which is one of the first things we have to look for from our corners because our corners are primary support quite a bit. If you don't want to tackle, it's hard to play corner at Rutgers. In the first scrimmage he was in, he actually made three tackles."
The QB situation
Quarterback Gary Nova started all 13 games last season while backup Chas Dodd attempted only one pass all season. Nova will continue to carry the reins as the team's No.1 signal-caller this spring.
"I think we have a couple things happening at that position, including a player in Gary Nova who started all 13 games last season," Flood said. "That's the first time we've had a situation like that in a long time. It is interesting to see where he is going to take his game this spring. With that being said, we have a lot of talented, competitive players in that room. Gary is the starter, but we have a guy in Chas Dodd who has started and won games at Rutgers. We also have some players behind him that are going to get an opportunity for the first time in their careers to play Rutgers football, like Blake Rankin, Chris Laviano and Mike Bimonte. There is a lot of competitiveness in that room, which I think will make them all better."
Nova ended last season on a low note with a forgettable performance against Virginia Tech in the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl. Flood responded to where he hopes to see an improvement in Nova's game this year.
"I think consistency of play is the most important thing at that position. Maybe you could say it about every position, but I think at the quarterback position especially, the biggest jump I'd like to see Gary make from last year to this year would be to still have the highs and the great moments that we had but maybe some of the other games where he wasn't pleased with his performance, if we could move them up then you have a more consistent, higher level of play. Then, you play a better brand of winning football on offense. I think no matter what the offense is, there is always going to be more emphasis placed on that position. Quality play at the quarterback position is crucial to play good offense."
Ready, set, kick
Tomorrow will mark the first day of an open kicking competition between sophomore Kyle Fedrico and redshirt sophomore Nick Borgese.
"Kyle is fully healthy and the kicking competition will be Kyle and Nick and both of those guys will be battling it out. That is a position where we have two players who I think can go in and hit a winning kick for us," Flood said. "At different times during the year, I was very pleased with the way both of those players kicked. Now, having a little bit of the year to get healthy, they should both hit spring practice 100 percent healthy and I think that will be a good competition for both of them."
The offense suffered a big loss last year when Michael Burton's season ended due to injury in game No.4. The fourth-year junior is back to full health and will retake his starting fullback position tomorrow morning.
"Michael is another one of those players that would go into the leadership category and that's in everything that he does. He had to lead, unfortunately for us being injured for the latter part of the season, from the sideline," Flood said. "Michael is a player who makes us a better football team when he is out there. We run the ball better when Michael Burton is in the game and we're in a 21 or a regular personnel group. To have him back this spring is certainly a bonus to the entire offense. Now with that said, one of the things we better figure out and we better find is where is the depth going to come from at that position. I've said that before, but that will be one of the key position battles this spring is to find out where that depth is going to come from at the fullback position. When you don't have it, when a guy like Michael Burton is not in the game you end up being in different personnel groups and that's not always what you want to do."