New Rutgers offensive coordinator starting from scratch

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers will start from scratch under new offensive coordinator John McNulty.

New playbook. New terminology. There is even the possibility that McNulty starts a true freshman at quarterback.

After three days of spring practice, McNulty on Tuesday talked about the offense and his goals heading into Chris Ash’s third season as the Scarlet Knights‘ coach.

McNulty is Ash’s third coordinator in as many seasons. He replaces Jerry Kill, who retired after last season because of health issues. Drew Mehringer had the job in 2016.

While he did not label his offense, McNulty wants to run the ball, cut down on the turnovers and be able to take shots down the field. It sounds like a pro-type offense, but it will be mixed with run-pass options that stretch defense from sideline to sideline.

There are some carry-overs from previous coordinators, but basically this is another new offense.

”We just went out and changed everything,” McNulty said. ”It’s always hard in some respects on those guys. I tried to simplify it as best as I could. We’ll try to shorten things, but we will be able to run the different tempos with what the terminology is. Really, I haven’t kept anything from what has been here. I just kind of wholesale put a new deal in.”

For the players, especially the returning quarterbacks, it requires a lot of work in the classroom and on the field.

This is McNulty’s second stint as offensive coordinator at Rutgers. He started as a Scarlet Knights’ receivers coach and was elevated to coordinator by Greg Schiano for the 2007-08 seasons before moving to the NFL.

When he ran the offense a decade ago, he morphed an existing system but kept the terminology. This time he decided to start from scratch because everything was changing.

The biggest task facing McNulty will be to find a quarterback to run the offense, which was either last or next-to-last in the Big Ten Conference in 2017 in scoring (216 points), total offense (262.7 yards), passing (115.6 yards), first downs, third-down conversions and fourth-down conversions.

Redshirt senior Gio Rescigno, who started the last seven games in 2017, leads a group of six quarterbacks taking part in spring practice.

Sophomore Johnathan Lewis, the highly touted recruited who showed flashes of excellence and periods of inexperience, also returns. There are two impressive freshmen – Artur Sitkowski, a New Jersey product who played at IMG in Florida, and Jalen Chatman of California. Both are enrolled and taking part in the spring workouts.

Tom Flacco, the brother of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, is eligible after sitting out a transfer year in which he served as the scout team quarterback. Redshirt senior Rob Nittolo also is competing.

McNulty said having six quarterbacks makes it hard for everyone to get more than a couple of snaps. His goal is to find the best quarterback and then tweak the offense to help him run the system.

That could be a freshman.

”In fairness to the team if he is the best guy, he plays,” said McNulty, who spent the past two seasons as the Los Angeles Chargers tight ends coach. ”I am not saying Artur and Jalen are the guys. If they are the better guys and they can handle it, they are going to play.”

Rescigno, who has the most experience, doesn’t feel that learning a new offensive is a negative. It’s a chance to get better.

His mentality heading into the competition is that he is the starter.

”If you don’t have confidence in yourself and you don’t carry yourself with that kind of trait as if you are going to be the starter, it’s going to be difficult for you,” he said.

Sitkowski has confidence as a freshman despite losing his starting job at IMG after an injury during his senior year.

”I believe in myself, 110 percent,” he said. ”I believe in myself a lot. I am not going to say that I am the best player in the world, because I am not. I have a lot to learn.”

Lewis said his goal is to be more patient in the pocket and more accurate with his throws.

Flacco believes the job is wide open, and Chatman hopes to carry over his success in California, where he ran a no-huddle offense and threw 29 touchdowns.

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