Chris Ash faces major test in first season as Rutgers coach
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Chris Ash is coming into his first season as Rutgers coach knowing that he sure isn't at Ohio State anymore.
The Scarlet Knights' depth chart isn't very deep and the talent level isn't anywhere close to what he had as the co-defensive coordinator with the Buckeyes.
Coaching Rutgers is going to be a challenge. It is coming off a 4-8 record last season with one win in the Big Ten Conference in eight games.
Rutgers' recent success is a thing of the past. The Scarlet Knights are rebuilding.
''Got to get back in to football playing shape,'' Ash said after training camp opened. ''We're in great conditioning shape from summer work outs, but just like most teams at this time of year, we're not in great football shape and we got to play ourselves back into that, but good start.''
Ash was not as happy after the first preseason practice, so there has been some improvement in recent months.
''As we continue to go through training camp we'll have a better feel of our team, our players and our picture will become clearer,'' Ash said. ''It's a lot clearer than when we first started, so making progress, but like I said when we first started, but like I've been saying all along still a long way.''
Ash has changed almost everything since replacing Kyle Flood. The coaching staff is new, and so are the offense and defense.
''We've made a lot of changes to their bodies, but it took seven months to make a lot of those changes,'' Ash said. ''We have to change the type of production we get on the field as football players. That doesn't happen on day one.''
While there are many on-field questions that need to be answered, Ash is pleased that there are no questions about his team's off-field behavior. During last year's training camp, Flood was engulfed in an academic scandal while his players were getting arrested.
''You look at the behavior and you tell me what you see. I see a bunch of guys that want to be coached, that want to excel, that want to do things right, and they want to be good teammates and they want to represent the athletic department, and this state the right way,'' Ash said. ''Now they have to continue that, but I like the trend that we're on right now.''
Once again, Rutgers has a quarterback battle between Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. Ash recently threw TCU transfer Zach Allen into the mix and the battle is expected to go throughout much of camp.
While they replace all three linebackers from last season, Rutgers will rely defensively of their defensive line. The deep unit returns All-Big Ten performer Darius Hamilton, Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Sebastian Joseph. Hamilton is coming off a lower body injury and needed a medical redshirt to return this year.
If Rutgers wants the Penn State rivalry to become a thing, they have to win a game against the Nittany Lions. Rutgers' hosts Penn State on Nov. 19.
If Ash can somehow win six games and get to a bowl in the loaded Big Ten East, that would be chalked up as a very successful first season. The reality is there was very little in the cupboard and this could be a very long year, even longer than last year's 4-8 finish.
Sept. 3 at Washington.