By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 18, 2014) – It could be just another indication of an older, more experienced quarterback. It could also be the Ralph Friedgen influence.
Either way, if Rutgers’ second and final scrimmage is any indication, the Scarlet Knights’ running backs can expect to be a lot more involved in the passing game than they have been recently. Running backs alone accounted for eight receptions in that scrimmage.
That’s a philosophical shift – if it holds – for a program that hasn’t relied heavily on a running back as a receiver since Brian Leonard’s playing days.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can do things with the ball – Paul James, Desmon Peoples, even the younger guys, (Robert) Martin and (Josh) Hicks,” said quarterback Gary Nova. “So (the idea is) just try to get the playmakers the ball and let them make plays out there.”
Nova, a senior, understands the value of using his running backs in the passing game, even if it’s in a checkdown situation. It’s lower risk with a higher completion percentage. The latter has always been a struggle for Nova, who has a career completion percentage of 54.4.
A year ago, fullback Michael Burton was the top receiving running back with 19. That total was the sixth-highest on the team.
“You need guys who can catch the ball out of the backfield,” head coach Kyle Flood said. “That’s really what you need. You need guys who can catch the ball out of the backfield so you can line them up other places and expect them to do a good job.
“I think we’ll still see that. I think that’s still the plan. Like anything else, the most important thing is that we get the best 11 players out there.”
Friedgen, in his first season as the offensive coordinator, has stated on numerous occasions that he tries to use all of the offensive weapons at his disposal.
“Get guys the ball, short throws, get some matchups on linebackers, get some running backs on linebackers,” Nova said. “I think coach Friedgen is doing a good job with that.”
Rutgers welcomed back several injured players for its final double session of pre-season camp. The final preseason practice will be Tuesday, with game week preparation for the opener against Washington State starting Wednesday. The Scarlet Knights face the Cougars on Aug. 28 in Seattle.
“We got a lot of good work done today. Two practices,” Flood said following the night practice session. “It’s really our last double session of training camp. I’m pleased with where we are right now. I’m looking forward to one more day of practice and then we’ll dive right into Washington State.”
Three cornerbacks returned to bolster a defense that was minus quite a few players during the scrimmage, foremost among them defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and linebacker Steve Longa.
Both are due back this week.
“We saw some guys come back to practice and that was good,” said Flood. “Dre Boggs was back. He had a nice play in the (practice) overtime period. (Anthony) Cioffi was back. Nadir (Barnwell) was back. We’ve got more people working there now and now we’ve got them back to 100 percent to see what they can do. It was good for a change to see a bunch of bodies over there working.”
Despite the return of three cornerbacks, sophomore Justin Goodwin, moved from running back to cornerback last week, will stay on defense.
“It doesn’t mean anything for Justin Goodwin,” Flood said. “Right now Justin Goodwin is our starting corner. I don’t expect that to change.”
Sophomore Delon Stephenson may have a slight edge in the free safety competition with Johnathan Aiken for now, but both will have a prominent role regardless of the pecking order at the position.
“There is no doubt that both will play as we get into the sub packages,” Flood said. “They will both be on them. If we played a game today Delon would start but that’s a day-to-day situation and the guy who practices better is going to play.”