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Kirk Ciarrocca brings one certainty to offense as spring camp begins



Photo credit Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Rutgers football opens spring practice on Tuesday. It’s a critical period for the program where development is needed to take a step forward next season. It also marks a new era for the offense. Kirk Ciarrocca was hired as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in January. Soon after, Dave Brock was hired as wide receivers coach, followed by Pat Flaherty as offensive line coach. In addition, Andrew Aurich and Damiere Shaw were retained but shifted to tight ends and running backs, respectively.

A new day has arrived with the revamped offensive coaching staff finally getting a chance to work with the unit in practice. While spring camp is important for every part of the program, not group has more ground to make up than the offense. Not only has Rutgers underperformed on offense for years not, but timing is essential in regard to making progress. With 15 spring practices, a lot of work needs to be done in order to lay the groundwork for the new offense going forward.

In Ciarrocca’s press conference introducing him as the new offensive coordinator, he spoke about the moment that is happening this week with spring practice set to begin.

“I’m just excited to get to work with all the kids. I think that kids are excited about it,” Ciarrocca said. “I know I’m excited about it and looking forward to teaching him and doing this. You know this is what I do, right. I go to programs where the offenses might not have had as much success as we’d want, and then we build an offense there, and if you look at my track record, we’ve been able to do that. So I’m excited about the challenge here.”

Obviously getting the most out of the quarterback is crucial to the offense improving in the fall. Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon return with freshman Ajani Sheppard, who enrolled early, in the fold now as well. How each develop this spring will be key for the offense to take a step or two forward next season.

One thing that is certain is Ciarrocca’s approach will be thorough. He spoke in detail when he was hired about his philosophy in developing quarterbacks. The one thing that he harped on above all else is accuracy. While Wimsatt has the most potential of all the quarterbacks on the roster, that’s an area he has struggled with previously. The good thing is spring practice is the opportunity for Ciarrocca to deconstruct not only his quarterbacks, but the offense as a whole.

Last year, Ciarrocca returned to Minnesota as OC. He was originally there from 2017-2019. With the Gophers, the offense was at its best in 2019 when they averaged 34.1 points and 432 yards of total offense per game. By 2021, Minnesota was down to 25.6 points and 360.1 yards of total offense per game. That was with the same starting quarterback Tanner Morgan. The signal caller told the Star Tribune during spring practice last year that Ciarrocca returning was a blessing.

“I’m incredibly thankful to have him back here, pushing us every day to get better,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said after Saturday’s practice. Added wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell: “It’s like he never left. He’s still the same ‘Roc.’ The guy’s going to get to know you, push you every day and challenge you. That’s the guy we need in this program.”

Despite Morgan missing four games due to injury, the Gophers offense made progress. With a shift to the run game, Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 1665 yards and 20 touchdowns. The offense averaged 28.2 points and 389.8 yards of total offense per game. Ciarrocca’s offense increased scoring by 10.2% and total yards by 8.2% from the previous season.

Ciarrocca’s philosophy is grounded in players having a full understanding of concepts and having that knowledge developed through repetition on the field and in film sessions.

“It’s incredibly detailed,” Morgan said. “Everything is going to be pointed out. You’re going to be looking at not just the result of the play, but asking, ‘Why did you do this, why did that safety do this, what coverage was it?’ ”

The good news is that Ciarrocca made it clear in his opening press conference that his approach will be consistent in what is also a return to Rutgers. The difference is he was in Piscataway over a decade ago with different personnel. The other difference is that this is a heavier lift in regard to rebuilding the offense. Rutgers averaged just 17.4 points and only 282.1 total yards of offense last season. Even so, his process will be the same as his return to Minnesota, which makes sense.

“I need to get out there. Spring ball will be really, really important for me to get a chance to see these guys,” Ciarrocca said. “It’s one thing for me to put the film on but we’re six months later. This is a new season with these guys and just kind of see where they are at: What are his strengths; what are his weaknesses; how does that fit into the system; what do we need to emphasize, that type of thing; how does he learn; how does he learn from his mistakes. These are all questions that are going to be answered once we get out on the field and get a chance to start to work with him.”

Next season’s schedule provides an opportunity for a strong start, as well as many winnable home games throughout the fall. For the program and the fan base, the hope is that Ciarrocca and his new coaching staff can make major strides with the Rutgers offense in the weeks and months ahead. The one certainty is that Ciarrocca will focus on the details from every angle. He’ll impart a thorough approach on the offensive unit as a whole. It’s not rocket science, but his consistency in approach has produced positive results many times in his career.

If the program is going to improve by any significant margin in year four with Greg Schiano as head coach, the offense obviously has to be much better. As Minnesota players have said, Ciarrocca’s approach is designed to get the most out of them. The groundwork for success will begin on Tuesday.

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  1. thevinman

    March 27, 2023 at 11:11 pm

    Sounds like Coach Ciarrocca will be adjusting his offense to fit the talents of the players. It sometimes seems coach try to do the opposite, forcing players to fit into their system. I sure hope he can get our QBs to become more accurate and decisive and make those decisions quicker. Getting the ball out quicker will help the OL.

    • BataliBoli98

      March 29, 2023 at 2:21 am

      Yep…Drew Mehringer. Talk about forcing a philosophy without the personnel.

  2. Henry Rutgers

    March 28, 2023 at 12:36 pm

    Looks like we’ve changed every position and coordinator coach possible except the top guy. No excuses for anything less that six wins and a bowl.

  3. pj43

    March 31, 2023 at 7:52 pm

    A little late reading this article but I like the OC approach that focuses on detail. Combined With OL & WR coaches from pro backgrounds, I’m expecting player development and offensive improvement over the course of the season.

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