2011 Rutgers Preview – Offense
Rutgers WR Mark Harrison
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knight Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: In an attempt to find an identity and more production, Rutgers has overhauled its toothless offense in the offseason. Gone is the spread in favor of a pro-style, more traditional attack that'll be administered by new coordinator Frank Cignetti. Basically, the Scarlet Knights want to rediscover the ground-oriented formula that worked when Ray Rice and Brian Leonard were the mainstays of a two-man backfield. Playing the role of Leonard will be beefy Joe Martinek, while the feature back is a question mark that could be answered by converted wide receiver Jeremy Deering or even blue-chip recruit Savon Huggins. Chas Dodd is back at quarterback, a year after Tom Savage's wrist injury thrust him into the spotlight as a first-year freshman. He'll get plenty of help from an imposing corps of receivers that's led by Mohamed Sanu and Mark Harrison, but not from his blockers. The Knights were last nationally in sacks allowed, and could be breaking three sophomores into the lineup.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Mohamed Sanu
Passing: Chas Dodd
123-223, 1,637 yds, 11 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Jordan Thomas
95 carries, 417 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Mark Harrison
44 catches, 829 yds, 9 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore C David Osei
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Jeremy Deering
Best pro prospect: Sanu
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sanu, 2) Junior WR Mark Harrison, 3) Deering
Strength of the offense: Options in the running game, the wide receivers,
protecting the ball
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience and inconsistency at quarterback, pass protection, third down conversions, red zone conversions
State of the Unit: The Scarlet Knights have employed the services of a true freshman behind center the last two years. The first time might be viewed as a fresh approach to the position, but the second one is a sign of trouble. Tom Savage, the can't-miss recruit from 2009, was supposed to be the franchise and four-year starter, but injuries and a seat on the bench prompted a transfer to Arizona in February. Rutgers has regressed at the most important spot on the field, trading a blue-chip rookie with a less heralded one.
Savage's wrist injury problems unexpectedly opened the door for 6-0, 197-pound sophomore Chas Dodd, the South Carolina native to play in the Garden State. He was predictably raw, but showed a lot of moxie and poise in eight starts, going 123-of-223 for 1,637 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. While not an imposing figure in the pocket, he has a very live arm and the comeback wins over Army and Connecticut needed to earn the respect of his teammates. He possesses certain special qualities undetectable by a tape measure or stopwatch.
The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster in the spring was 6-5, 230-pound junior Steve Shimko. More of a prototypical pocket passer, without much mobility, he can see the entire field better than Dodd. However, he lacks the playmaking ability and has yet to attempt a pass, missing 2010 with a shoulder injury.
Watch Out For .... the incoming class of rookies. Can Rutgers start a true freshman for a third year in-a-row? Only if Dodd gets hurt. The Knights did do well in February, beefing up the forces by landing Gary Nova and Mike Bimonte. Nova, in particular, was a coveted prospect who got offers from Big East and ACC schools up and down the coast.
Strength: A starter with starting experience. Savage went down early enough in 2010 to give Dodd his opportunity to learn on the job and work out some kinks for three-quarters of a season. That time under center and those mistakes will pay enormous dividends for a quarterback who isn't nearly as green as he was 12 months ago.
Weakness: Depth and reps. It's hard to imagine a stable of quarterbacks with less snaps than the one in Piscataway. Dodd is only in his second year on campus, and yet he's suddenly the veteran. Shimko, the backup, has never attempted a pass. And Nova and Bimonte don't arrive until the summer. Unless Dodd is a prodigy, the passing game will be rife with inconsistency.
Outlook: Losing Savage hurts because he was viewed as the long-term solution to the graduation of Mike Teel, a hurler the program could build around. While there's a lot to like about Dodd, ideally he'd still be learning from the sidelines instead of undergoing a baptism by fire. He'll make some things happen and show a lot of heart, but he'll also stumble along the way and spend too much time running for his life behind a shaky line.
State of the Unit: The switch to a pro-style offense means the fullback will be featured the way it was when Brian Leonard was around and the tailbacks will get a shot at a starring role. Who that tailback will be remains a mystery until the summer. Rutgers needs to ignite an injury-plagued running game that ranked 110th a year ago and averaged just 2.7 yards a carry.
The race to be the starter is wide-open, a three-man competition that'll get even more crowded in the summer. Sophomore Jeremy Deering has made the move from wide receiver to running back look good so far, turning heads throughout the spring. A lanky, 6-2, 203-pounder, he has tremendous speed, hitting the hole and breaking into daylight. He showed playmaking ability as a receiver and in the Wildcat, catching 16 passes for 338 yards and a touchdown, while running for 352 yards and two scores on 77 carries.
While the pecking order remains fluid, 5-8, 195-pound junior De'Antwan Williams and 5-8, 200-pound redshirt freshman Jawan Jamison could be fighting for the backup role. Williams has the most experience, appearing in six games in each of the last two seasons and gaining 111 yards on 19 carries in 2010. A quick-hitter, he's tailed off since briefly raising expectations in 2009. Jamison runs with good pad level, and will lower his shoulder to break tackles and pick up yards after contact.
Senior Joe Martinek is making the move to fullback, a role that's tailor-made for his skill set. The team leading rusher two years ago, he was hindered by an ankle injury in 2010 and was limited to just 85 carries for 276 yards and four touchdowns. A north-south runner, who'll do a lot more blocking this year, he'll still have an opportunity to carry the ball, especially in short yardage, and catch passes out of the backfield.
Watch Out For .... the arrival of true freshman Savon Huggins . The local kid, with offers from as far away as Auburn and USC, he's arguably the most heralded back to ever sign with the Scarlet Knights. He still runs a little high, but has the balance, nifty moves, and top-end speed to quickly climb the depth chart in August.
Strength: Options. The new offense will have a little bit of everything to choose from in the backfield. Deering and Huggins are gamebreakers. Martinek is a between-the-tackles pounder, who can soften up defenses. Jamison will provide a mix of both for the staff to employ.
Weakness: A proven feature back. Now that Martinek is taking on a reduced role, the Scarlet Knights no longer have a runner who's used to carrying the ball 20-25 times a game. Deering was a situational player out of the Wildcat and a converted receiver, and none of the other backs have been asked to shoulder a load.
Outlook: Rutgers has a lot of raw talent in the backfield, especially if Huggins arrives ready to contribute. The key for the coaching staff will be to get the kids up to speed as quickly as possible and formulate a pecking order that maximizes all of the talent on hand. There's a good chance that touches will be spread out this fall, though Deering has the best opportunity to command a starring role.
State of the Unit: With last year's top four receivers back in Piscataway, Rutgers has the weapons it needs to support young QB Chas Dodd. In fact, the Knights are so confident in their depth on the outside, that they felt comfortable shifting playmaker Jeremy Deering from wide receiver to running back in the spring. The pass-catcher are a big and fast ensemble that's going to create all kinds of matchup problems for opposing defensive backfields.
The do-it-all playmaker of the corps will once again be 6-2, 218-pound junior Mohamed Sanu . A third-year starter, nagging injuries caused a decline in production last fall, but he still has the size-speed combination to be an all-star and even a threat to leave early for the NFL. A terrific all-around athlete, with a thick, muscular frame, he caught 44 balls for 418 yards and two touchdowns, adding three touchdown passes and 309 yards and four more scores on the ground.
Last season's breakout star of the group was 6-3, 230-pound junior Mark Harrison , who came out of nowhere to catch a team-high 44 passes for 829 yards and nine touchdowns. An exciting blend of length and speed, he has big mitts and uses his body well to adjust to balls in the air. Considering the fact that he was teaming up with a true freshman quarterback, the sky is the limit for No. 81 in 2011.
A back-and-forth battle at tight end is being waged between 6-6, 258-pound junior D.C Jefferson and 6-2, 235-pound Paul Carrezola . Jefferson is the former quarterback, who's entering his second full season as a member of the receiving corps. A massive target, with 10 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown in 2010, he needs to show more consistency in order to maintain a starting job. Carrezola had a better spring camp, bucking to become the better pass-catching option in a new attack that likes to use the tight end frequently.
Harrison only became the starter after 6-4, 216-pound junior Tim Wright suffered a season-ending knee injury last August. Like an unproven version of former Knight Kenny Britt, he has outstanding measurables and an ability to beat defensive backs purely on physical skills. After a false start, he's hoping to recapture his pre-injury form. Redshirt freshman Brandon Coleman used his offseason as a springboard to the second team following spring. Another long-strider and big target for the quarterbacks, he goes 6-6 and 215 pounds and was a coveted recruit from a year ago.
Watch Out For .... less use of Sanu in Wildcat packages. The Scarlet Knights didn't show much of the formation in the spring, a hint that it could be phased out in 2011. That could mean more opportunities for the junior to make plays in the passing game now that he'll be focusing on a slightly smaller portion of the playbook.
Strength: Size. If there's a bigger and more physically-imposing corps of receivers in America, it certainly doesn't exist in the Big East. The Scarlet Knights are built for mismatches, averaging about 6-4 and 220 pounds at the wideouts alone. No plodders, they'll also burn defenses with their speed and acceleration after the catch.
Weakness: Consistency. The Rutgers receivers can be unstoppable one week, like Harrison against Cincinnati in November, and non-existent the next. It's a group that still needs to tap all of its raw potential, run more precise routes, and cut down on its number of dropped passes.
Outlook: More than any other group on offense, the wide receivers and tight ends are in a position to elevate the overall attack. It's comprised of young playmakers, with exceptional combinations of size, speed, and jumping ability. If they can tighten the small things, they're liable to post big numbers and land a Knight or two on the All-Big East squad.
State of the Unit: For those who felt the only way was up for the downtrodden Rutgers O-line in 2010, guess again. The front wall that had so many problems the year earlier was actually worse last fall. The Scarlet Knights were 110th on the ground and last nationally in sacks allowed, sending the coaching staff back to the drawing board, with head firmly in hands. So despite the returns of five players with starting experience, absolutely no one is guaranteed of a starting spot in September.
Senior Desmond Stapleton has been moved from left tackle to right tackle after being one of the line's more consistent blockers a year ago. The 6-5, 285-pounder has long arms and good feet, affording him the opportunity to seal off edge rushers. His old spot, the quarterback's blindside, is expected to be 6-3, 256-pound sophomore Andre Civil , a converted defensive lineman and one of the best all-around athletes of the unit. Obviously undersized, he's hoping to pack on another 20-25 pounds before the opener. The bigger and less mobile version of Civil on the left side is 6-7, 310-pound Devon Watkis . A letterwinner a year ago, he's still raw with his technique and needs to improve in pass protection before earning more playing time.
The veteran on the inside is 6-6, 290-pound senior Desmond Wynn, the leader at left guard. A starter at the position a year ago, the former defensive tackle has made a nice transition to offense, using his long arms and powerful upper body to control his man. Over on the right side is 6-4, 302-pound Antwan Lowery , who broke into the lineup last year. A physical run blocker, he's shaved off a considerable amount of weight in order to improve his mobility and conditioning.
The biggest concern is at center, where 6-4, 266-pound sophomore David Osei is on the verge of winning the job. Short on physicality and in need of making better snaps, he moved up a notch after projected starter Dallas Hendrikson , a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, tore his ACL in the spring. A much-needed veteran presence from the second unit will come from seniors and former starters Art Forst, a big disappointment, and Caleb Ruch, a steady performer who can fill in at both guard and center.
Watch Out For .... the scale. Civil and Osei are projected starters and two of the most nimble big men on the roster. However, they're also too light for the trenches and susceptible to being bullied on to their backs. Both would like to get to the 285-pound range, preferably before the Week 2 visit to North Carolina.
Strength: Senior presence. If nothing else, the Scarlet Knights will be littered with experienced players on the two-deep, many of whom are in their fifth year with the program. Coming out of spring, the team had two seniors on the first team and a pair on the B team, providing leadership to the precocious sophomores.
Weakness: Protecting the pocket. New year, same nagging problem. Sure, the situation was complicated by having a rookie behind center, but there's no excuse for yielding more than five sacks a game. Rutgers needs to do a much better job of winning the line of scrimmage or else the rest of the offense won't stand a chance.
Outlook: Rutgers has a lot of young and exciting skill position talent, but you won't know it if the offensive line can't do an about-face. However, that doesn't seem likely. There'll be a fresh infusion of blockers, such as Civil, Osei, and Lowery, but their growing pains are only going to further complicate this area of the squad.
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