by Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (May 23, 2014) – The countdown is already underway. Rutgers football players officially report back to the Hale Center in a little over two months (July 31) and start pre-season practice a day later.
The season opener is four weeks after that.
And the Scarlet Knights’ Big Ten debut – Sept. 13 at home against Penn State – has been circled on the calendar since the league schedule came out.
Scarletknights.com caught up with head coach Kyle Flood this week, the first Q&A session in a series of them over the next two months that will cover almost the entire coaching staff.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Have you felt the effect of the Big Ten yet internally or on the recruiting trail?
KF: “There is no doubt that there has been an immediate effect. Locally, and even in some recruiting areas that are non-traditional, it has raised the attraction of Rutgers, because now not only are you in one of the power five conferences but you’re in THE elite academic and athletic conference that exists in NCAA football.
“Every player that we now come in contact with, in New Jersey, in the State of Rutgers and beyond, they’re aware of the conference we’re playing in, the opportunity we have, the access to the national championship and the playoff format and, like anything else in life, you want to associate with people that have the same value systems that you do. And I think in the Big Ten Conference that’s where we are.”
Q. Since this marks Rutgers’ third different conference in as many years, what’s the challenge of again preparing for an entirely new group of teams on the schedule?
KF: “I think it’s a tremendous challenge. Not only do we have 12 completely different teams on the schedule this year, we’ve got four new coaches on the coaching staff. So we’re not only integrating the coaching staff, we’re also preparing for almost all new teams. There’s a little bit of familiarity with Navy because their system is similar to what we’ve faced in the past. Will that help a little bit? I think it will.
“But what I think this new schedule has done is it has forced us to do more (film breakdown) in May, whereas in the past most of the advance scouting has been done in June. So we’ve done quite a bit of it in May.”
Q. Style-wise, have you noticed a Big Ten football personality as you’ve started to watch film of teams in the conference?
KF: “I think it’s physical. I think that jumps out at you right away. There’s a premium on linemen on both sides of the ball and I think that’s something we’ve addressed very well on the defensive side. I think on the offensive side we’re still building depth to make sure we’re prepared for the league we’re going to play in. You also see that there are more run-oriented, physical offenses – or as many as any other conference in the country.”
Q. How was the transition this spring with the revamped coaching staff and a new offensive coordinator (in Ralph Friedgen) and a new defensive coordinator (in Joe Rossi)?
KF: “I think it has been very good. I’ve been in the meetings. When you have new coaches there’s always the beginning stages of it where they’re learning to communicate with each other. After seeing the two new coordinators and the assistants underneath them go through an entire spring they have a much better understanding of what their expectation levels are. That will help us going forward.
“It’s also going to help us when some of the players on offense get healthy. Some of them weren’t available in the spring, guys like (tight end) Tyler Kroft and (running back) Paul James. I think that’s going to help Ralph and the offensive staff know a little bit more about what they want to do. The thing that jumped out to me about Ralph when I talked to him about the job, I asked him about his offensive philosophy and his offensive system, and he said he has always felt his greatest strength as an offensive coordinator is being able to put the ball in the hands of the people who can make plays and not being tied to just one thing. I think that’s what we need. And now he will have all of the weapons available to him when we start training camp. He didn’t have that in the spring.”
Q. Are you concerned at all that so much emphasis has been placed on the Penn State game – in part because it’s Penn State but also because it’s Rutgers’ Big Ten debut?
KF: “I’m not, because I think that’s a fan interest and it makes sense because college football is at its best when it’s regional, and the fact that we have a partner in this league to the west in Pennsylvania is going to be great for Rutgers football as we go forward. I know the team, when we get back this week, will be focused on getting better as a team and then ultimately as we start training camp focused on Washington State. That’s the only game we have any control over that first week of the college football season. And the team will be focused on that.
“I think it’s only natural for the fans to migrate toward that (Penn State) game.”
Q. Last year we saw several breakout players emerge – Paul James, Tyler Kroft, Leonte Carroo, Steve Longa. Which players do you see having a chance to fit into that category this season?
KF: “I think a guy like Janarion Grant had tremendous impact on special teams last year. I think this year he’ll have an impact on offense. I think we started to see that in the spring. I think a guy like Desmon Peoples made enough plays in the spring that I feel comfortable that this can be a year where he can make those plays on game day and he’s going to get an opportunity to do that. On defense, a guy like Sebastian Joseph is someone who is going to play a lot of football for us and is going to be relied on. He’s a guy we have to get on the field and give him an opportunity because he’s done a nice job of progressing.
“I think in the secondary there is going to be a lot of opportunity for guys to step up. I think what we’ll see there is the improvement that comes from experience. Playing all of those younger guys last year, then having a spring practice with them and now a summer program and a training camp … you will see guys like Nadir Barnwell, Anthony Cioffi and Delon Stephenson make some tremendous improvement.”