In less than two weeks, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will kick off their annual Scarlet/White Spring Game, the first step towards a long 2018 campaign. The football year is young, but it is almost impossible to resist the temptation of making a few predictions. In Rutgers case, a team whose potential is recognized and anticipated, the speculation is strong. Here are a few early questions for the 2018 Rutgers football season:
1. Is the linebacker unit the most dependable on team?
There are a number of things to be excited for in 2018, on both sides of the ball. However, when looking at the Rutgers linebackers, a form of reassurance is felt. This is the year that everything should come together for the group. Deonte Roberts and Trevor Morris will be returning for their senior year, bringing experienced anchors to the defensive unit.
There is also a bright spot in the return of sophomore Tyreek Maddox-Williams, who is coming off of a medical red-shirt. Hopefully a torn ACL won’t keep the young play-maker from returning to his former level, which was good enough to earn him a spot on the 2016 Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
The team has serviceable depth in linebackers Tyshon Fogg and Rashawn Battle, two big sophomores who could easily challenge for playing time. With new linebackers coach Toby Neinas, this talent and experience rich group is set to hold the Knights defensive unit down solidly.
2. Who will step up at receiver?
In 2017, tight end Jerome Washington led Rutgers in receiving with 282 yards. The team’s next leading receiver was senior Janarion Grant, who is now off to the NFL Draft. The hope is that the offensive system in 2018 places more responsibility on the quarterback, and as a result a spot will be opened for a wide receiver to step up.
Sophomore Bo Melton has shown he is able to become a play-maker, but hasn’t necessarily proved it. The same goes for sophomores Hunter Hayek and Everrett Wormley, who will have the opportunities necessary to step up. Freshman Eddie Lewis certainly has the talent to earn some reps, especially in such a young group. This will be one of the most inexperienced groups on this team, but with youth comes hunger.
3. Does McNulty’s offensive style rule out the thought of seeing Johnathan Lewis this season?
This is a hypothetical I toy with often. Coach Chris Ash has stressed that the team has not yet come to a decision at the quarterback position, and most likely won’t until closer to the summer. Last year we saw Johnathan Lewis come into some prime scoring positions and capitalize on them, but we also saw the inexperience. In his defense, Lewis was never thrown into the fire of competition, only getting playing time during blow-out wins or losses.
The harsh truth is that considering his limited time last season, Lewis is not far above the rest of the quarterback group. Although Lewis could have solidified himself as a leader and student of the playbook since the season’s close.
The concern is that John McNulty and incoming freshman Artur Sitowski were a match made in heaven: a pro-style coach paired with a highly touted pro-style quarterback. Until an initial depth chart is released, we will be forced to speculate.