For the first time since Greg Schiano started his second stint as coach, Rutgers has something new on the football field — spring football.
After the start of practice was delayed three weeks because of COVID-19 issues, the Scarlet Knights took the field for spring practice on Tuesday for the first since the 2019 season, when Chris Ash was the coach.
The pandemic shut down spring workouts last season. Rutgers eventually played a nine-game schedule against fellow Big Ten Conference schools, posting a surprising 3-6 record. The three wins matched the total from the previous two seasons, and they ended a two-year conference drought.
“It’s just awesome to be able to play football,” defensive lineman Mike Tverdov said Wednesday. “We obviously didn’t have spring ball last year. That was really unfortunate. But I’m just glad I had the opportunity to go out there, get better. It’s a critical part of our development as a team.”
What was surprising about last year’s results was that Rutgers had to install a new offense and defense virtually in the spring.
“It was definitely a disadvantage because there was other teams in the conference that had a couple or several different practices and we had none,” Tverdov said.
The team will be running the same systems this season and should benefit by having most of the starters on both sides of the ball returning. Last year did not count against a player’s eligibility under NCAA rules because of COVID-19.
Quarterback Noah Vedral, who started seven games last season as a graduate transfer, said the offense will try to improve its down-the-field completions this season.
The Scarlet Knights have the weapons, with receivers Bo Melton, Aron Cruickshank and Shameen Jones and tight end Jovani Haskins all back.
Vedral spent time in the offseason recovering from a severe ankle injury suffered late in the season, but he says he is ready to go. He spent a lot of time working with the receivers during 7-on-7 passing drills over the winter, nailing down the details of the routes, what releases should be used against certain coverages and coverage recognition.
“That’s the advantage we have right now, perfecting some things that we weren’t so good at during the season,” said Melton, who led the team with six touchdown catches and nine overall. “Spring ball is the time for that.”
The one thing that has not changed is the COVID-19 protocols. While some players have been vaccinated, the team still does mandatory testing every day.
Schiano wants his team to be smarter this season.
“This is our last new thing together, spring practice,” he said before the workouts started. “I think it’s a really important one last new thing. We have to get better. We have an opportunity in front of us, but we have to get better. And I don’t mean a little bit; there is a lot of work to be done.”