Rutgers’ spring practice finally kicked off Monday -- but its quarterback carousel has been spinning for months already.
With four-year starter Gary Nova off to the NFL, that means one inexperienced signal-caller will have to step up this offseason. At this point, the competition has only just begun.
“I wouldn’t say that it can’t be decided until August,” coach Kyle Flood said prior to practice No. 1, “but we’ve got 15 opportunities to go out there and practice, and I’ve really felt at every position, the players ultimately decide that much earlier than the coaches do.”
Redshirt sophomore Chris Laviano is the only QB with game experience, as he played in five contests last season as Nova’s backup. Redshirt freshman Giovanni Rescigno is also involved in the competition. But maybe the most intriguing candidate is redshirt sophomore Hayden Rettig, who was forced to sit out the entire 2014 season as a result of transferring from LSU.
Rettig has yet to take a meaningful college snap, but he’s already generated buzz in Piscataway, New Jersey. He’s known as the California kid with the golden locks and the golden arm -- he was told to take some heat off his passes because the running backs had trouble handling them -- and could take the reins in time for the opener.
But Laviano obviously has the head-start. And Flood said that competing with the first team in practice is a lot different than running with the scout team, like Rettig did last season.
“It’s a 180 degree change,” Flood said Monday. “It’s completely different. You’re on the scout team, you’re reading a card and, a majority of the time, the defensive coaches are telling you where to throw it. ... There’s really no comparison to it, other than you’re throwing and catching. So, mentally, it’s a lot more work.”
Unsurprisingly, practice No. 1 didn’t help clear up the carousel. And there’s no telling if it’ll be any clearer by the 15th practice.
QB switch: In addition to the three competing for the starting job, another player is throwing passes during practice this spring, wideout Terence Scanlon.
The redshirt junior played quarterback at Monmouth University before transferring to RU last season. He wanted to play QB immediately, but there just wasn’t any room. But that dynamic had changed this season.
“We said [last year], ‘Hey, if you want to help us, we need some help at receiver.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever you want, for the team,’ ” Flood said. “So he’s a selfless kid and he wanted to come back and try quarterback so we said, ‘Listen, we’ll give you the opportunity to do that.’ ”
RB Paul James still recovering: James got off to a hot start last season before a torn ACL derailed his season in late September.
But, sadly, fans will have to wait a little longer to see James at 100 percent -- he'll still be non-contact the entire spring. Flood wouldn’t say whether James was ahead or behind schedule with his recovery, but he did say he was “happy with where he’s at right now.”
Offensive line replacements: One of Rutgers’ primary concerns this offseason is finding a way to replace three starters on the line, including center.
Chris Muller and Derrick Nelson are expected to compete for the job, with Muller finding a starting spot either there or at guard and Nelson grabbing the title of “starting center” or “backup.” But that doesn’t mean they’ll be the only two snapping the ball. Flood said he’d also like Dorian Miller, and maybe even Marcus Applefield, to line up at center.
“You got to have a lot of people who can snap the ball,” Flood said, “because you can get in trouble in a hurry if you don’t learn that.”