Lot of questions as Rutgers prepares for opener
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Just over a week into training camp, the two biggest questions surrounding Rutgers are who’ll be the starting quarterback against Texas State and how will the investigation of credit-card fraud impact the roster.
Three quarterbacks are vying for the starting nod in senior Gio Rescigno, sophomore Johnathan Lewis and freshman Artur Sitkowski. Six players were left off the roster amid the credit-card fraud investigation.
Redshirt junior linebacker/safety Malik Dixon, senior defensive back Kobe Marfo, sophomore defensive end C.J. Onyechi, redshirt freshman cornerback Edwin Lopez, redshirt freshman defensive back Naijee Jones and redshirt freshman linebacker Syhiem Simmons did not appear on the official roster distributed by the team. Simmons announced his intent to transfer via his Twitter accounting, tweeting a picture of his scholarship release form Friday.
With eight practices, including the first of three scrimmages Saturday, the answers to the quarterback and legal questions haven’t changed since Rutgers opened up camp on Aug. 3
In a five-minute opening statement before taking questions at the team’s Media Day, Rutgers coach Chris Ash said the quarterback competition is still in the evaluation process while he awaits the results of RUPD’s investigation into credit card fraud. With the second of two scrimmages this Saturday, Ash hopes that after the scrimmage he and offensive coordinator John McNulty will have seen enough to name a starter.
“It’s based on what the remote say,” Ash said, referring to practice film. “When you hit play on the remote, who’s consistent, who’s making plays? There’s a feel component of it too. Who do we feel like the rest of the players on the football team and specifically he offense, do they really believe in who they trust, who they’re going to rally around, we haven’t really gotten to that point, no.”
Rescigno has the most experience with seven career starts, tossing seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Lewis appeared in seven games last year, throwing two touchdowns and running for four more. However, Lewis, a former three-star recruit from St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City had accuracy issues, completing just 14 of 38 passes and throwing four interceptions.
Sitkwoski, another in-state three-star recruit, has impressed since arriving as an early enrollee in January. A native of nearby Old Bridge, Sitkowski is a big-arm talent with prototypical size at 6-foot-5, 224 pounds, spent his senior season at IMG Academy in Florida,
“If he ends up being the starter, there’s obviously going to be some good days and some bad days, and hopefully they’re not all on Saturday’s. Hopefully the bad days are in practice and you learn from them,” McNulty said, adding, “I don’t think when he starts playing he’s going to win every game. I don’t think that’s realistic. It kind of goes with the territory. If we didn’t feel like an 18-year-old guy that’s a freshman legitimately wasn’t ready to take on this responsibility then we can’t play him. That’s part of the evaluation. It’s not just how far he can throw the ball. It’s the mental makeup and your ability to handle the job. As a rookie or a freshman, you could ruin the kid. That’s part of the evaluation.”
Which puts Rescigno and Lewis in a position of competitors simultaneously mentoring a wonderkid fans hope is a program-changing quarterback for Ash, who was 2-10 with a 0-9 Big Ten Conference record in his first season and 4-8 overall and 3-6 in the league last year.
“There definitely needs to be a good balance, but at the same time, I’m trying to be the starting quarterback. That’s the outlook I’ve had,” Rescigno said. “But at the same time I’m helping young guys as well and it kind of goes back to when I was young and the feeling I had when I didn’t know as much or have the experience.”
Lewis, whose body transformation has him bigger, faster and stronger, said playing as a true freshman helped to slow the game down as he adjusted from high school to college.
While freshman were not made available on Media Day, Sitkowksi spoke with reporters last Monday, expressing his focus on football, which included deleting Twitter from his phone to minimize distractions.
“The better you play you play, the more respect you earn, and that’s all I’m trying to do,” Sitkowski told reporters earlier in camp. “I just want to go out there, sling the rock, and lead this team down the field.”
After orchestrating one of the most prolific offense Rutgers history in 2007, becoming the first program in FBS to have a 3,000 yard passer in Mike Teel, a 2,000 yard rusher in Ray Rice and two 1,000 yard receivers in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, McNulty is pleased with how the quarterback competition has unfolded thus far in his second stint as Rutgers’ offensive play-caller.
“I don’t think you can have a backup mentality. All three of these guys have the mentality of ‘hey, I’m playing, until they tell me I’m not.’ McNulty said. “So I don’t thin anyone has conducted themselves in a manner of ‘let’s see what happens. I don’t think I’m going to get the job.’ They’ve been pushing pretty hard.”