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Rutgers Football Coach Chris Ash evaluates practice 11, Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rutgers University Football Media Day

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Head Coach Chris Ash


COACH ASH: Welcome. Appreciate everybody showing up today on a Sunday afternoon. Appreciate everyone’s interest in our program and what we are doing here through training camp so far.


Just finished our second week of training camp. We’ve had 11 practices of the 29 practices that the NCAA allows us to have, so we are not quite through the halfway point yet. Just under three weeks to go for our first game.


Right now I think training camp has been very productive. We’ve gotten a lot of work done. I think we’ve improved in all areas on our football team. Some areas, we’ve improved more than others but I think we have improved in every aspect of our football team through the first couple weeks and 11 practices that we’ve been able to evaluate.

Chris Ash (courtesy Rutgers)


I really like our football team right now. We talk a lot about these players are like our sons and we treat them like our sons; and we all love our sons, but sometimes you don’t necessarily like being around your son. We really like being around these guys. They have a great attitude. They are committed, they are invested; and we not only love them but we really like being around them every single day that we get that opportunity here in training camp. And when you can say that about your team, it’s a good spot to be in.


From an injury standpoint through the first 11 practices, we have our typical training camp bumps and bruises and things that happen when you play football. But for the most part, we’ve been relatively healthy other than some of the preexisting injuries we had before we started with certain individuals. But we’ve been really healthy from that standpoint.


The attitude and effort is there. The want-to, the care factor is there from our players, and like I mentioned before, I really like that. We are better fundamentally right now than what we were a year ago. The guys know how to practice. They come out with the same attitude and effort every single day. We don’t have to coach that. So we are able to focus on just trying to make these guys better football players here at this training camp instead of trying to build toughness and the right type of attitude that we wanted.


Our focus in this training camp wasn’t about building toughness. It’s about trying to make these guys better; the best football players that they can be. It’s a long training camp; it’s five weeks, and we need to make sure we come out of it with our players mentally and physically fresh, with a team that is healthy and still getting enough reps so that they know what they are supposed to do on all three phases of the game and in critical situations.


I like the work that we have been able to do so far. And with that, I’ll go ahead and open it to questions.


Q. Talking about some areas, more improved than others, which areas do you feel like you’re most improved from what you’ve seen in training camp?

COACH ASH: I would start with the quarterback position. I think we are improved at the quarterback position. We’ve got three guys that will be getting a lot of reps and we’ve been mixing them in with the ones and the twos, and I do think we’re a lot better at that position.


I think at the running back position, it’s a deep position when we’ve added Gus Edwards into the mix. Rob Martin has been limited early on in training camp but is getting closer and closer to 100 percent. Got several reps in the scrimmage yesterday. You add Josh Hicks in the mix, Trey Sneed in the mix, Raheem Blackshear is a freshman. I think that’s a pretty deep group. I think it’s a very competitive group and it’s a group that will be improved from last season.


Defensively, I like our defensive line right now. Jon Bateky is playing at a very high level. I think Jon Bateky is a very underrated player that I think — going to expect to see big things out of this year. I think linebacker right now, we’re drastically improved from where we were last year. Those are some of the areas that I feel.


And then special teams, not talking about snappers, holders and kickers and punters. I’m talking about the guys covering kicks. I feel a lot better right now today with who is running down covering kicks and holding guys up than what we had last year.


Q. Have you started to see some separation among the quarterbacks? Jerry kill has told BTN on Tuesday that he wanted to name a quarterback within about a week or so. We’re coming up on that, so how close are you to doing that?

COACH ASH: We’re getting closer to naming a quarterback. We’ve got three weeks to go before we play, and we’d like to do it sooner than later. We’ll probably get through this week, keep sorting it out a little bit, and then get ready by the end of this week, first of next week, to go ahead and name a starting quarterback.


But we’re not going to go all the way up until game week at all. We’ll get it done. Like I said, either end of this week or earlier next week. It’s what’s right for the players, the quarterback position; and it’s what’s right for the rest of the team, too, to know who that guy is going to be.


Q. Of the freshmen, who has jumped out the first two weeks?

COACH ASH: There’s been a lot of them. I’ll just talk about the offensive guys to start because that’s where we’ve had the greatest need for young players to come in and contribute right away.


Raheem Blackshear at running back has really stood out. He’s going to be a guy that’s going play for us. Bo Melton has stood out. Really all those wide receivers that we signed last year have stood out: Bo Melton, the Hayek brothers have both stood out, Shameen Jones, Everett Wormley. All those guys, really, are going to have a chance to compete for playing time on offense and on special teams here this fall.


We’re still not in position to determine what freshmen exactly are going to help us. We still have some time to sort through that, but those are the ones that are really standing out.


Travis Vokolek at tight end is going to be an outstanding tight end. He’s got great length. He can run. Just got to get bigger and stronger, but really like his football IQ and just the way he works every single day.


Micah Clark had missed a little bit of time early in training camp but the last few days he’s been back out there and showing the promise that we expected him to show at an early age, and he’ll be a guy that definitely we hope to be in the two-deep here by the time we’re done with training camp.


There’s some others offensively, too, but those are the ones that really are standing out defensively. Some of the linebackers — we call him 03, I don’t even attempt to say his name, 03, the linebacker, he’s a guy that’s starting to do some good things for us in defense. He’s getting some reps in the two-deep. He’ll be a special teams guy. But a lot of the offensive guys, because they are getting more reps out of need more so than the guys on defense.


Q. Naming the captain, what’s the process?

COACH ASH: Still a set number. We’d like to have four. But we could go up, as many as six, if we needed to. But we will have a player vote on captains this Wednesday. And that will be really about the midpoint of training camp and have a pretty good idea of who we can count on, who the players trust and who dependable and who can be our best leaders and we’ll vote on that. It will be a player vote that’s done on Wednesday night.


Q. Talking about Jerry Kill and how he’s come into augment the offense that you have, particularly in changing offense to keep the defense on the field, along with having five weeks to do it, how is that process going and how is it going to make the team different this year, that you’re seeing little by little.

COACH ASH: You know, started last spring, the transition in our offense started last spring. We’re going to be a lot more multiple on offense, and I think what we’re going to do is with our offense, is do what we need to do to win games.


There’s going to be times that we can speed it up and there’s going be to times that we have to slow it down, and we’re not just going to be a team that goes fast and we’re not just going to be a team that goes slow. We’re going to do what we need to do to have success. And that’s not just offensive success. That’s defensive success, also, because the best defense is the best offense and vice versa.


We’re more multiple, so we can use different personal groupings. We can use our best players. We have contingency plans if injuries occur at certain positions and we don’t have guys anymore.


Again, do what we need to do to manage the game and the clock so we can play really good defense, because that’s our No. 1 plan to win. We’ve got to hold on to the football and keep the offense on the field; and if that means slow it down, then that’s what we have to do.


But Jerry looks at that, and that’s why he was such an important hire. Because he looks at it from a head coach’s standpoint: Hey, what do we need to do to have success. It’s not about my stats; it’s not about, you know, points — we need to have points or score points. We want to have great offensive stats, but at the end of the day, what do we need to do to give ourselves a chance to have success, and. That’s the way he looks at it and that’s what I wanted in that position.


Q. Two-part question on Janarion. One, how is he coming along as an overall receiver –

COACH ASH: How long have we been doing this? Eight minutes, and this is the first question about Janarion? I’m shocked.


Q. That’s why it’s a two-parter. Second part, is the plan to use him offensively, and are you switching up offensive schemes? Last year he took some balls out of the backfield — is that the plan for him?

COACH ASH: When you talk about changing up offensive schemes, we’re not necessarily changing. We’re adding to what we did and diversifying what we did last year.


But Janarion is still going to be one of our top playmakers on our football team and we are going to use him how we have to use him to have success.


I think the thing that is different this year is we’re going to probably have some more playmakers around Janarion why we might not have to ask him to do as much. But he’s a dynamic player, and we’re going to use him as much as we possibly can; and not put him in harm’s way by playing him at every snap.


Wish we could get him over at corner, too, a little bit. We’re going to use him as much as we have to, and he’ll be all over the field both on special teams and on offense.


Q. Wonder if you’ve been able to determine what kind of role Damon Mitchell is going to have for your team, and also are you at liberty to give an update about his brother, Amir, and his recovery from his knee injury?

COACH ASH: We’ll start with Duwop, as we call him, Damon Mitchell. He’s going to have a huge role in our football team. He’s been a great addition to our roster as a graduate transfer coming in from Arkansas. He’s big, physical. He’s been learning the offense. He’s probably a lot better right now today than obviously he was in the spring and doing some good things.


Where it really shows up is on special teams. His history at Arkansas is he was an outstanding special teams player, and in practice, he has shown that he’s going to do that for us, also.


So he’s going to help us on offense at receiver and he’s going to help us on special teams. He’s a big, athletic body. Got good football IQ and excited about what he brings to the table.


His brother, Amir, as you guys all know, tore his ACL in the spring and his rehab is going great, probably slightly ahead of schedule. Hope to have him back playing sometime in the middle of the season. When that is, I don’t know yet, but he is rehabbing and he is ahead of schedule and he’s out there doing some things right now on the side.


Q. Regarding separation at quarterback, has Kyle maybe separated himself a little bit more? Looked like he handled a little more first team reps yesterday.

COACH ASH: I can’t say that either one of them has separated themselves. It just goes by day. You know, one day one looks like they have separated and the next day it’s someone else.


You know, so it’s really — this week, we’ve really got to find out who is going to be the most consistent and most dependable. They both got strengths. They both got weaknesses. I shouldn’t even say both; all three, because Johnathan Lewis is right in the mix, too, getting a lot of represents. Those are you that have watched Johnathan at practice, kid has got a bright future. Big, good looking, strong-armed kid that’s got tremendous football IQ, and I’m very, very excited about Johnathan Lewis’s future.


But all three of those guys, they have strengths, they have weaknesses they have good days and they have bad days. Right now they are all three probably putting together more good days than they are bad days. And at the end of the day, it’s about who we can trust to go out and protect the football, make good decisions and we really need to see that this week before we say, hey, this guy or that guy going to be the starter in game one.


Q. What are your hopes for attendance by Rutgers fans this season, and how much of a difference can that make in your home games?

COACH ASH: When you win, they all come. That’s what it is. We over — at times, over-complicate attendance. We want fans at our games. We want people there to create a tremendous environment but I also know a lot of that is determined by the product you have on the field. If I was a college football fan, too, I probably wouldn’t be paying money to go to a game that it wasn’t going to be very competitive. That’s just calling it as it is, you know.


We hope to be more competitive. We hope to be winning more games this year. We hope the fans will want to come out and watch us play and watch some of the exciting football we play here in the stadium.


You know, like I mentioned, we’re a lot better football team right now today than we were last year at this point, and hopefully that translates into more enthusiasm and excitement once we start games and people get to see that.


Q. Obviously we focused a lot last year publically on special teams and offense. But defensively, since that’s your background and there’s like eight or nine returning starters, how much room for improvement is there, and do you almost put a little extra on them with the offense undergoing some changes and does the defense have to take the lead for this team?

COACH ASH: No, we’ve got to be great in all three phases. It’s not, well, this phase is going to be better and it’s okay for the other ones not to be good. I don’t look at anything like that. They all three have to be operating as good as we possibly can make them.


Like I mentioned before, why is Jerry so important; defense is a product of your offense. Unless you’re loaded with tremendous talent and great players and you’ve just got better personnel than someone else, it’s hard to play really good defense. If you can’t move the sticks, you can’t change the field position with special teams and you’re not putting points on the board. Just you can’t do it.


I thought last year, you know, you look at the stats, they are not very good but we are a better defense than the stats showed. Again, you go through the course of the year when you don’t have the depth on defense to rotate guys, but you’re not — offensively, again, controlling the ball, scoring points, moving the sticks, keeping the defense off the field, you have no chance to play good defense.


Our players understand that. And it’s no different for the offense. You know, we’ve got to play great defense for our offense and get the ball back for our offense and put them in good field position. The best offense is a good defense; I truly believe that.


Both offenses and defenses are a reflection of our ability to play special teams, too. If we can’t set the offense and defense up with good field position because of our special teams play, you’re not going to have a chance to be successful.


You look at us last year, starting average field position on offense was one of the worst. Starting average field position on defense was one of the worst. Why is that? Well, it’s a combination of all three phases. It’s not just one phase over the other. It’s called complementary football and we have to be a team that uses our players the right way and we can complement each other so we can get better in all three phases.


Q. With Kemoko Turay, other than obviously the injury stuff last year, where have you seen him change and develop over the last couple of months?

COACH ASH: Really his football IQ and his focus on being a really good football player. Kemoko is one of those guys that’s had a lot or talent. And you guys have heard this before: You’ve got to be aware of talented players and talented people, at times, because they want to get by just on their talent alone. You know, that was probably Kemoko, early on in his career, is he was able to get by on just his talent alone and would maybe tend to cruise a little bit or not be as focused as you would like him to be.


Kemoko has really matured and really focused on being a good teammate. He’s really focused on being the best player that he can be. He wants to be an all-around good player, an every-down player. Early on in his career, he was satisfied with just being a third down guy; go out there and rush the passer. And that would be great if that’s all did he and he did it well. But we want and need him to be an every-down player, and that’s what he wants, also. And he understands that he’s got to be focused to do that.


He’s really learned the football — he has such a limited football background that his football IQ wasn’t really high, but he’s learned the game. At least from what I can tell here in this last year, he’s learned a lot more about the game, and you know, I just like where he’s at right now. He’s really, all the way from January to where we are right now, he’s worked really hard. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. More intelligent in terms of football right now. And he’s really focused on being the best that he can be.


Q. You’ve been here for — you’re entering your second season here, and when you look back to when you first were introduced and to the point where you are now, what has it been like for you, just these past 18- to 20-months that you’ve been here, you know, emotionally, just a grind, recruiting, everything; what have things been like for you?

COACH ASH: It’s been a blur. You know, it’s gone by really fast to be honest with you, because when you start, there’s just so much coming at you.


Again, you mentioned from just coaching players to recruiting to donor relationships, off the field behavior, academic, there’s just so much that comes at you and to be able to get all injure systems in place and to get things running the way you want and to be able to manage your time the way you need to, it takes a lot of time. It’s been a blur. Honestly, that’s just the way coaches are. You just kind of go and you go, go, go, and you Wake up one day you and look at the time and say, where did it all go.


I really haven’t had a lot of time to think about what we’ve been able to do and whatever, the 18 months that we’ve been here. But I know it’s gone by fast. We’ve done a lot of things and feel good about what we’re doing, but you know — I don’t know if that answers your question or not.


Q. Are there times where it’s overwhelming at all?

COACH ASH: No. It’s just football coaching, you know. I don’t care if you’re an assistant coach or head coach. If you’re going to do things the right way, it takes an insane amount of time. As an assistant coach, you’re doing the same thing. You’re recruiting, you’re developing you’re players. You’re doing things academically with your players. You’re doing things to build relationships with the players. So you’re always working.


This is not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. College football is not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. It’s not a six-month job that you do during the season. It’s a year round job and that’s the way most coaches look at it, and that’s the way I look at it. It’s no different here than it is being at other places that I’ve been a part of. It’s no — really, maybe a little bit more when you’re the head coach versus an assistant coach because there’s a few more things you’ve got to do. But the days, you get in early, stay late and you enjoy what you do.


Q. Gus Edwards, what’s he done the first two weeks to step out and how do you keep — with the depth that you have, how do you keep five guys happy and content with touches?

COACH ASH: You can’t keep five guys happy if they all want to touch the ball. That’s not our job to keep everybody happy.


Our job is to go out and move the ball and score points. If we’re worried about keeping everybody happy, that’s not going to work. We’re worried about putting the best players in position to give ourselves a chance to have success.


And right now through two weeks, Gus has shown that he can do that. He’s a big back, 230 pounds, got great speed, he’s got great balance. He’s also demonstrated really good ball security. The ball has not been on the ground with Gus. He’s willing — in pass protection, also and been a great addition.


He’s a real serious dude. Loves the game of football. Works really hard every single day. That’s not one day where you have to say, Gus, let’s get going. He shows up to work every single day and it’s made that room better and it’s made our offense better.


I just love having him here. He’s a guy on a mission. He’s came here, has one last year and obviously would like to have a shot at the NFL, and he knows he’s got to go out and extra great year to do that.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports