Rutgers football announced its 21 member recruiting class for 2023 on Wednesday as part of national signing day. The early signing period continues through Friday, although there aren’t any additional players expected to sign. Of course, RU could add high school recruits during the regular signing period in February. However, it’s far more likely that the Scarlet Knights will add to the roster the rest of this offseason through the transfer portal. The new reality of college football involves the merry go round aspect of players leaving after 1-2 years to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
Under Greg Schiano, the program has added several transfers that ultimately made a big impact. Michael Dwumfour, Brendan White, Aron Cruickshank, Sean Ryan, Christian Braswell, Tre Avery, Aaron Lewis and Noah Vedral are a few that come to mind.
Rutgers has added two players from the transfer portal this offseason so far. Cornerback Eric Rogers is transferring from Northern Illinois and is from Burlington, New Jersey. Safety Michael “Flip” Dixon is transferring from Minnesota and a Georgia native. Both were officially announced by Rutgers as part of the 2023 recruiting class on national signing day. Adding two veterans with experience and multiple years of eligibility remaining is a positive. The secondary had a couple holes to fill with the departures of Christian Izien and Avery Young. The coaching staff was able to address the situation relatively quickly and competently.
During his press conference on Wednesday, head coach Greg Schiano discussed the additions of Rogers and Dixon.
“I think number one, both really good players. That’s the first thing that brought us to them,” explained Schiano. “One is a corner and one is a safety. We had some connection with our staff to both of them, and our players, for that matter. So when they went in, we thought they were good targets. We immediately jumped on them and got them in to visit and did all those things, and really thrilled with both of them. I think they’re going to come in and really be part of our defense in a hurry, and that excites me. In the back end I think we’re going to have a really strong back end of our defense.”
Relationships matter of course and they certainly seemed to help in both cases. However, with so many players in the transfer portal and so many positions needing help, Rutgers must do their due diligence in regard to maximizing their reach to potential fits through the transfer portal.
Schiano discussed during the presser the process of how Rutgers prepares for the transfer portal in order to make sure they are aware of any targets worth pursuing.
“You have to be prepared because if you wait for every guy to show up in the portal, you’re usually behind,” Schiano stated. “Truth of the matter, you have to stay up. So we’re evaluating all the time. It’s become that. Which again, I don’t think — I don’t like when people say those are unintended consequences. Like you have to be a fool to think they were unintended. What did you think was going to happen, that people weren’t going to evaluate people throughout college football? That would be silly to think that. If you think that any college coach that is trying to win would do that, then you don’t really understand football and the competitive nature of it. So it creates a lot more work, and it creates bigger and bigger staffs. Who’s going to do it? People have to do it.”
Different types of experiences can help people in all industries in the future. For Schiano, he spoke about how the new era of the transfer portal requires preparation similar to how NFL teams operate. His two years as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers exposed Schiano to how much scouting and preparation front office personnel do on a regular basis.
“I think there’s — this is a way of the future that you’re really just going to have to — if you think there’s a beginning and then an end, I don’t see it ever being an end” Schiano explained regarding the transfer portal. “I think it just goes like this, and it’s something very much like when I was in the National Football League, you have your pro personnel department, right, that constantly knows about everybody in the National Football League. Now, that’s easier because there’s only 1,696 active players in the league, but they also have to know about all the guys that are on practice squads, which is another 320, then they have to know about the guys that are on the street, so it adds up quickly. I think college football is getting to be like that, and you have to be prepared.”
It’s no secret that Rutgers needs significant help on offense. Aside from not having an offensive coordinator, which you can listen to Schiano speak about it as well as my takeaway on the situation in our latest podcast episode, the program needs to add playmakers through the transfer portal before next season.
Schiano downplayed being worried about missing out on transfer portal targets by not having an offensive coordinator in place.
“But you’ve got to remember, like look at some of the guys that have come to us through the portal,” Schiano said. “They’ve come as late as June and July, so there’s several — everybody wants to get excited about this window right now. There’s going to be a lot of portal movement. You only have to be in by the 19th. Then there’s another portal opening after the spring. I think there’s going to be a lot of portal movement after the bowl games.”
This is true of course, but missing out on one complete transfer portal cycle is not ideal. The longer the search takes, the farther Rutgers will be behind in contacting potential targets on the offensive side or being able to promote the new system they’ll have in place.
One area Rutgers has had a lot of success in is landing players from New Jersey who want to transfer home. This is one aspect in recruiting that I think gives Rutgers a positive selling point. They’ve done a fairly good job in utilizing that angle to their advantage.
“Do we here kind of put a little bit more premium on the guys that are from this area that went away? Sure,” stated Schiano. “If we’re studying guys that possibly could go into the portal, you look at those guys.”
While Rutgers did add several intriguing options at receiver in the 2023 class, finding at least one experienced wideout at a minimum is important this offseason.
In regard to quarterback, the Scarlet Knights don’t have much experience at the position. Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon played quite a bit this past year but as a whole they are still lacking game reps. Ajani Sheppard signed on Wednesday and is now considered the No. 3 signal caller for now as a true freshman. There are no other scholarship QBs as of now.
“My goal has always been to have four scholarship quarterbacks. That’s always been the way we’ve done it,” Schiano said. “If you go way back, maybe we had five, but that doesn’t work anymore. The reality is guys don’t hang around if they’re in a four-quarterback room. Two of them usually leave.”
He did address the perceived lack of experience at the position currently. Schiano isn’t necessarily set on adding a quarterback through the transfer portal.
“I’m really excited; you say there’s not a lot of experience, probably not a lot of game experience, but Evan has been in this program for three years now and he’s played some games,” Schiano said. “Now with that room kind of those two guys kind of being a little more seasoned, I look at them a little differently than they don’t really have experience, just that they’ve been around. Now, we’re all going to be starting new in whatever system it is that we’re running, so there will be some of that learning curve anyway on the ramp-up.”
Not having an offensive coordinator makes it extremely challenging to pursue any portal players, let alone a quarterback. Schiano did say that hasn’t stopped the staff from staying on top of every QB that is available through the transfer portal.
“Quarterback obviously is the most important position in football and maybe in all of sport, but if we have a guy, whether it’s the portal or in high school, if we have a guy that I think can make our team better, we’re going to recruit him,” explained Schiano. “But it has to be a fit. It has to be all those things. We’ve looked at every single quarterback that’s come into the portal, and we’ve evaluated them, so we’re certainly looking at them all. But if I think it can make us better, we’ll definitely recruit them. But that’s on an individual basis, every single guy.”
Schiano continued, “Our office does an incredible job. Every player that enters the portal gets evaluated, and in rather fast manner. So you can imagine when all those guys were flying into the portal, it was some late nights and some early mornings. Sometimes those ran together for that crew. Yeah, we’ll evaluate everyone. If they make us better, we’ll make a move on it.”
For Rutgers to move forward on offense next season, adding offensive playmakers through the transfer portal is important. Of course, hiring an offensive coordinator and deciding on the system moving forward is critical. Schiano made it clear that the program has a system in place to be prepared.
This is a good thing and and being organized has been a strength of Schiano’s coaching career. However, the longer the OC search goes, each day that passes is one where portal players who can potentially make an impact at Rutgers are unlikely to consider the program. While Schiano emphasized finding the right fit for OC as the most important element in the search, the clock is still ticking. No amount of preparation can counter not having the offensive coordinator in place.
“I’ll just say that we’re working on it. I’m working on it,” Schiano reiterated. “But the reality is we need to get the right man for the position, not the fastest. When I finally decide that it’s the right guy, I’ll let you guys know immediately, and we’ll get to work building our offense.”
The Scarlet Knights have been effective in finding help through the portal throughout Schiano’s second stint at RU. This offseason the portal is even more important for Schiano and the coaching staff to find immediate help on the offensive side of the ball. Of course, their biggest need is hiring an offensive coordinator before finding players through the portal.
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