Gavin Wimsatt, new-look offense and 5 other Rutgers takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

Published Jul. 26, 2023, 5:58 p.m.
By Patrick Lanni | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBrian Fonseca | NJ Advance Media for
INDIANAPOLIS — Rutgers will enter training camp without the usual major storyline.
Greg Schiano ended all ambiguity at his biggest position when he named Gavin Wimsatt as his starting quarterback Wednesday morning, ending the projected training camp battle before it began.
The move was unexpected given Schiano’s usual preference to play the process out deep into training camp — and, at times, until the day of the season opener — but he and his offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca had realized throughout the offseason “where we were headed” at the position. So Schiano elected to rip off the band-aid, a decision he believes will pay dividends.
“It was just a good time to do it, before camp starts,” Schiano said. “There are some benefits, if you know what way you’re going to go, to do it before camp. Those questions are all off the table and it’s not a distraction and we’re just moving forward.”
Schiano noted that junior Evan Simon, who will serve as Wimsatt’s backup, has done “a great job also of developing in our new offense” under Ciarrocca. But ultimately, Wimsatt beat him out for various reasons.
“He’s a very gifted athlete to start with: strong arm, mobility, athleticism. What I think he’s done the most to improve this offseason, this spring and this summer, is really understand what we’re trying to get accomplished and the why of what we’re doing,” Schiano said. “I think that helps you get rid of the ball more quickly, it helps you understand the protection schemes better. … In all those areas, he has to do that as a quarterback in our system, and he’s improved.”
His teammates have seen the improvement as well.
“He’s just made such a transformation this offseason,” tight end Johnny Langan said. “He was great last year. I just think the player he was in the last game of last season to the player he is this season is just night and day. There’s not a throw that man can’t make. He’s just so gifted in so many ways. I’m really happy that he’s gotten that recognition as a starting quarterback and hoping we have a really good connection. We’ve been working on it, me and him. I’m just happy for him.”
Here are six other Rutgers takeaways from Big Ten Media Day:
Injuries slowed Langan’s transition to tight end
Switching between quarterback and tight end, Langan has been, at ties, the do-it-all player for the Rutgers offense. Turns out last summer, he couldn’t do it all.
Langan was hampered by an injury that delayed his transition to tight end last year, he said, but with a full offseason, he expects “exponential results” in what truly will be his first full season at tight end.
“Last year, I couldn’t run the whole summer,” Langan said. “I started training camp halfway through, and this year, I got a whole spring ball in. Last spring ball, I was playing quarterback. I’ve had a full winter conditioning, summer training and camp at tight end so all those compound reps will really help me.”
No mystery to what Ciarrocca’s new offense looks like
When it comes to the new offense, Schiano said there won’t be many surprises. If you want answers, pull up film from Minnesota’s offense last season. Highlighted by All-Big Ten running back Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota ran the ball at a 66% clip, and it’s likely the ground game will be the focus for the Scarlet Knights in 2023.
“We’re not trying to trick anybody,” Schiano said.
Sam Brown returning at full strength
Rutgers lost a step and its offensive identity when Brown, the team’s breakout freshman running back last season, suffered a season-ending foot injury against Indiana halfway through the season.
Despite not taking any reps in spring ball, Schiano said the sophomore tailback will be a full participate when training camp opens next Thursday.
“It wasn’t only the game against Indiana where he broke out, it was the games leading up to it that you could see what he is capable of,” Schiano said. “He has great vision, he’s faster than you think, he’s got a tremendous stiff arm. There are things he can do that we haven’t had around here for a while, so that was tough. … But I’m excited. I think Sam is going to be healthy, he’s coming back and he’ll be a guy who I think could be a real quality Big Ten back.”
Former offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson returning
Less than a year after firing him from his staff, Schiano will face his former offensive coordinator on the other sideline (or booth) in September. Hired this offseason by Northwestern to serve as a senior offensive analyst, Sean Gleeson is set for a return to Piscataway, where he worked under Schiano for two-and-a-half seasons.
“Sean’s a good football coach. I have a lot of respect for Sean,” Schiano said. “In this business, you do it long enough, you go against a lot of your former assistants, a lot of guys you worked with, a lot of head coaches you worked for, so that’s not unusual. Sean is a great football coach, a really good man, a great husband and father and I think he’ll be a positive addition wherever he ends up.”
Rutgers expects improvement from offensive line
Improvements at quarterback and wide receiver will not be evident if the offensive line does not make the same jump. The unit returns three bonafide starters (tackle Hollin Pierce, center Ireland Brown, guard Curtis Dunlap) and a decent amount of experience. Working under first-year offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, Rutgers needs the unit to continue making progress.
“I think our offensive line is getting better by the day, but we need to,” Schiano said. “We weren’t good enough (last season). We were improved, better than we had been, but still not where we needed to be. I think we’re gaining experience. We have guys who have played a couple years in our system, a couple years in the Big Ten, which is going to be important. This is an upfront league with all the great defensive lines we face, and we’re going to have to be better than we’ve been.
Defense ready to take next step
For stretches last season — the non-conference schedule, the first half against national semi-finalist Michigan, the meeting against Nebraska — Rutgers flashed the potential of an elite defense.
But plenty of other times — the second half against the Wolverines, a season-ending 37-0 loss to Maryland and a 31-0 loss to Minnesota — the Scarlet Knights struggled mightily to stop their opponents.
It’s why, despite their dominant stretches, they ranked 13th in the Big Ten in scoring defense and 12th in total defense. For Schiano and second-year coordinator Joe Harasymiak, consistency is key.
“I’m excited about our defense,” Schiano said. “I think Joe Harasymiak and the defensive staff have a special chemistry about them, with the players, with each other. What we need to do is be more consistent. We played some great defense at times and then other times, we gave up some plays. Our thing is you got to limit big plays. You’re going to give some up, but you have to really limit those. We have to do a better job of that consistently, throughout the year. And we will.”

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