Hens’ Caruso determined to improve

NEWARK — The Delaware football team lost twice that weekend.

First, the Blue Hens fell to rival Villanova, 28-7, in their regular-season finale.

Then, the next day, Delaware’s NCAA Division I FCS playoff hopes vanished when the tournament committee didn’t award the Hens an at-large berth.

Delaware’s players were crushed.

“We were all sitting in the team room when we found out we weren’t making it,” said quarterback J.P. Caruso. “We were very sad. I was very disappointed and sad that I wasn’t going to be able to play again with guys like Brody Kern and (Kyle) Yocum.

“But me and the rising seniors … all of us that day, we went home and we talked about it. We’re like, next year’s our last year. We can’t take ‘good’ for an answer. We’ve got to be great. There’s no excuse for us not making a run next year to the playoffs.”

Caruso was hardly the only Blue Hen player who left Villanova’s field with regrets on that rainy day last November. As with any quarterback, though, he shouldered his share of the blame.

The former Appalachian State transfer completed 21-of-33 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown in the loss. But he also threw two interceptions, one of which the Wildcats returned for an early touchdown.

That was followed by an off-season in which Caruso had surgery on his throwing arm and Delaware brought in an FBS transfer QB in Boston College’s Darius Wade.

But, almost two weeks into preseason, there’s no reason to think that the 6-foot, 205-pound Caruso won’t still be the starting QB when Delaware opens the season on Aug. 30 by hosting Rhode Island.

Caruso, who started the final six games of last season, said he just takes it all in stride.

“I’m in my fifth year,” he said after practice on Monday morning. “I don’t really get down about much. I’m very disappointed that we didn’t win that last game and make the playoffs.

“But, honestly, that just motivated me a lot more. We have a lot of unfinished business we’ve got to handle this year. I’m on my last year. It motivated me to get healthy, to work extremely hard, to work on the things I need to work on, get my shoulder a lot stronger so we can go out there and really accomplish our goals.”

Issues with Caruso’s shoulder did limit him in practice for a couple days last week. Much of the time, however, he’s been the first QB lining up with the first-team offense.

Caruso said he thinks the surgery has made a big difference with his arm.

“It’s getting better and stronger every single day,” he said. “There’s a huge difference. Last year, I threw hurt basically. Right now it’s feeling a lot better than it has in years. I’m really happy about that.”

The other thing to remember about Caruso is that he only transferred to Delaware after spring practice in 2017. Now he’s been through a whole calendar year with the program.

Second-year head coach Danny Rocco also brought in veteran Alex Wood as UD’s quarterback coach in the off-season.

A year ago, Caruso completed 71-of-142 passes for 755 yards with eight TDs and five interceptions. Including the Stony Brook game, where Caruso entered the contest in the first half, the Hens went 5-2 with the newcomer behind center.

“I spent a lot of time this off-season trying to understand what I can do better for this team to win,” Caruso was quoted on Bluehens.com. “As a player, it does no good to complain if you don’t think you’re getting enough reps or playing time.

“You have to spend the time pushing yourself and truly battling for every snap. This is bigger than each one of us at our spot, it’s bigger than any position on the field, it’s about this team. We want to win as a team and we’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

How much competition Caruso faces for playing time remains to be seen.

Wade, the former Middletown High standout, has been limited in practice as he continues to learn the offense. Redshirt junior Pat Kehoe has taken the most number of first-team reps next to Caruso.

Like most quarterbacks in that situation, Caruso said he’s just going to worry about the things he can control.

“Competition just brings out the best in you,” he said. “And there’s always going to be competition wherever you go. You can never get down on yourself. You’ve just got to watch and learn on film, go out there and try not to make the same mistakes — get better every single day.”

Extra points

Senior Joe Walker, the former three-year starting quarterback who is now a wide receiver, still gets some reps at QB in practice. He completed a couple nice throws on Monday. … There’s been two or three NFL scouts at practice, probably looking at linebacker Troy Reeder and safety Nasir Adderley. … QB Nolan Henderson has been doing some holding on place kicks — which is ironic since his alma mater, Smyrna High, didn’t attempt field goals or PAT kicks in his last few seasons. …. Former Blue Hen defensive lineman Bilal Nichols had a sack for the Bears in his first NFL preseason game.

 

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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