By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 26, 2014) – Trying to predict which Rutgers players will use Thursday’s opener against Washington State as their breakout performance is a little trickier than it was a year ago at this time.
Leonte Carroo and Paul James had established themselves as budding stars in practice before the Fresno State game last season. Both had dazzling starting debuts that night – Carroo catching five passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns, James rushing for 182 yards.
Even the solid defensive performances by defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and linebacker Steve Longa – both highly-touted prospects -- were expected as they made their first career start at Fresno.
This year? It’s a lot tougher with nine returning starters on offense and seven on defense.
But there are a few intriguing possibilities, especially at wide receiver with both Andre Patton and Ruhann Peele sidelined by injuries.
“I think there are going to be some opportunities on the other side of the field away from Leonte and away from (tight end) Tyler Kroft,” head coach Kyle Flood said before the team headed to Seattle. “Last year I thought Tyler took advantage of the fact that people paid a lot of attention to Brandon Coleman, Leonte and Quron Pratt. Nobody knew a lot about Tyler Kroft. So I think he took advantage of some opportunities.
“Now everybody knows about Tyler Kroft, everybody knows about Leonte. People know Paul James. I think the guy in that other receiver position, whether it’s Janarion Grant, John Tsimis, Andrew Turzilli Carlton Agudosi … whoever it is … there are going to be opportunities, and for us to do what we want to do offensively we need to take advantage of it.
“And on defense we’re going to play so many defensive linemen that there are going to be some opportunities for the younger guys to make plays.”
Kroft had a breakout season in 2013, though he did not start the opener (Paul Carrezola did).
On special teams, Grant made an immediate impact with a 100-yard kickoff return. But he has yet to start a game at wide receiver. That could change Thursday, since the wide receiver spot opposite Carroo is the only one that will likely feature a first-time starter.
Defensively, the first-time starters will be defensive tackle Kenneth Kirksey – though Rutgers will call on several newcomers on the defensive line – and cornerback Justin Goodwin, whose prior starting experience was at running back.
Flood said the decision to go out a day early (Tuesday vs. Wednesday) was more the result of the three-hour time difference.
“It’s really the time difference,” he said. “I think if you don’t change your body clock and you try to start a game at 10 o’clock (Eastern time) it would be unusual. It’s not something we do very often.
“We did our preseason scrimmage at 7 o’clock, which is what time it will be (at kickoff in Seattle), and go through the entire day of the game exactly how we did it during training camp. Going out there two days early is a good way to do it. We feel like we had a good experience (doing the same thing at Fresno) in terms of how we played the game last year and now we need a better experience in terms of the result.”
This will be the first true game experience for the coaching staff, which consists of a new offensive coordinator (Ralph Friedgen), a new defensive coordinator (Joe Rossi) and a new special teams coach (Bob Fraser).
So far, the simulated game-day experiences have gone on without a hitch.
“Ralph will be upstairs (in the booth),” Flood said. “The way the headphones are set up all of the coaches are on the same lines and then one each side of the ball we have an alternate line in case two coaches need to discuss something kind of off air if they need to talk about something specifically about a position.
“Every position has somebody up top who is kind of watching and then we have somebody on the field who is watching. Bob will be on the field, Ralph will be in the box and Joe (Rossi) will be on the field.”