When the Big Ten assembled in Chicago earlier this week, Rutgers’ head coach Chris Ash said all the right things to excite his fan base about a potential bowl run in 2018.
Ash, along with Blessuan Austin, Tariq Cole, and Deonte Roberts, met with the media to talk about health, quarterbacks, and expectations for this coming season as Ash buckled down on his goal to see postseason action.
Throughout the entirety of spring camp, Ash refused to name a starter or even state who had taken an early lead for the starting job. Redshirt senior and incumbent starter, Gio Rescigno, and exciting incoming freshman Artur Sitkowski both look poised to bring the battle into preseason, and Ash provided little insight into his thoughts in Chicago.
In his press conference on Monday, July 23, Ash stated that he hoped to name a starter sooner rather than later, but made it clear that he would not rush the decision. While on paper, Sitkowski looks to be the favorite to win the starting job, Ash intends to take this battle deep into camp if no clear winner emerged.
Not much was mentioned about sophomore Johnathan Lewis, who split starting quarterback duties with Rescigno a year ago. During the spring game, Lewis was regulated to working with the second string offense, and is expected to be used for depth come September.
Back in April, Ash was excited about how healthy his team was, coming out of spring camp with no concussions and only one minor injury. One of the biggest takeaways for the Scarlet Knights in Chicago was Austin’s health, as he is expected to start at corner back during the opener of his senior season.
Austin played only four games in 2017 before tearing his ACL. Ash stated he will have no restrictions once training camp begins on August 3rd.
In addition to having Austin healthy again, Rutgers’ defense got stronger and healthier when Kiy Hester returned to the program last week. Hester left the team in December and committed to Florida International University as a graduate transfer, but made the decision to return after not completing his degree. Although not being committed to the Scarlet Knights all spring, the plan all along was for Hester to play football and is in shape.
Ash expects him to be ready to go come kickoff in Piscataway this summer.
Throughout the offseason, there has been concerns about Rutgers’ depth and those concerns were shared by Ash this week. While some position groups – wide receiver and running back especially – are relatively deep and will showcase many different faces this season, the defense is not quite as lucky.
Ash stated in Chicago that his “biggest concern” was health, because he is not sure he can count on the players he has waiting in the wings.
Hester’s return helps the nearly depleted defensive backs that took a huge hit when KJ Gray was removed from the team a few weeks ago. Beyond Hester and Saquon Hampton, there are not many players who can step up and compete in the Big Ten.
Health will be key for the Scarlet Knights this season; while the team’s depth is better this season than it has been in the past, the backups are still not quite ready to contend among the best in college football.
During the three day media event, Ash stayed firm on his goal to make it to the postseason in the third year of his tenure. It will not be easy for the Scarlet Knights, who have six wins in the last two seasons combined, but Ash made it clear that he means business in 2018.