2012 Rutgers Preview – Offense
Rutgers WR Mark Harrison
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knight Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: With more “ORs” on the post-spring depth chart than the Scarlet Knights crew team, there’s sure to be a climate of competition on offense this summer. New head coach Kyle Flood will be particularly judicious as he decides on his backfield combination. Much like a year ago, when the two were virtually interchangeable, there isn’t much separation between quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova. While Dodd has an extra year of experience and better playmaking ability, Nova has a higher ceiling as a pocket passer. Sophomore backs Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins are in a nip-and-tuck battle as well, though both are going to get their touches in the fall. The latter is one of the highest-rated recruits to sign with Rutgers, while the former was a pleasant surprise in 2011, rushing for 897 yards and nine scores. Although no one will come close to filling the void left by the departure of go-to WR Mohamed Sanu, sizable targets Mark Harrison and Brandon Coleman will attempt to do their best impressions of No. 6 in the fall. While the line has been a headache for years in Piscataway, there’s cautious hope that the current edition might buck the trend. Yeah, the interior could be vulnerable, but the tackle tandem of emerging star Kaleb Johnson and Maryland transfer R.J. Dill ought to keep the quarterbacks safe and sound.
Star of the offense: Sophomore LT Kaleb Johnson
Passing: Chas Dodd
139-245, 1,574 yds, 10 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Jawan Jamison
231 carries, 897 yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: Quron Pratt
32 catches, 327 yds, 1 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Gary Nova or junior Chas Dodd
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Brandon Coleman
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) Coleman, 3) Sophomore RB Jawan Jamison
Strength of the offense: Depth at running back, athletes at wide receiver, the tackles
Weakness of the offense: Accuracy of the quarterbacks, play of the O-line, run blocking, turnovers, third down conversions, red zone conversions
Former head coach Greg Schiano juggled his two quarterbacks in 2011, almost equally divvying up the resp. New head coach Kyle Flood is hoping to name a starter in the summer, and stick with him. Unfortunately, the spring failed to produce a frontrunner. The veteran of the race is strong-armed junior Chas Dodd, an intermittent starter in each of the last two seasons. In nine games last fall, he went 139-of-245 for 1,574 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The 6-0, 200-pounder plays the game with a lot of moxie and energy, but lacks ideal size in the pocket, and has struggled with his consistency through the air.
The higher ceiling belongs to sophomore Gary Nova, one of the program’s top recruits of 2011. He hit the ground running as a rookie, starting five games in the middle of the year, and finishing 116-of-227 for 1,553 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine picks. Yeah, he was overwhelmed at times, but learned a lot from the on-the-job training that’ll benefit him in Year 2. At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he’s better built for the job than Dodd, and shows good mobility in the pocket.
Watch Out For .... Nova to be the opening day starter. No, he didn’t blow away the coaches in the spring, but he has the higher ceiling and better mix of physical skills than Dodd. The hope around Piscataway is that the game will slow down for the sophomore in such a way that his decision-making takes a quantum leap forward.
Strength: Two starters. The only thing better than a returning starting quarterback are two returning starting quarterbacks. Since Dodd and Nova both played a ton a year ago, the Scarlet Knights have the luxury of multiple players capable of leading the offense with confidence. Plus, in the event of an injury, the offense won’t be forced to trot an unproven novice from the bench.
Weakness: Accuracy. The two-headed quarterback at Rutgers made too many mistakes and poor decisions a year ago. And based on the spring returns, there’s no guarantee that the 2012 results will be markedly different. The Knights threw a Big East-high 16 interceptions last fall, while completing less than 54% of their passes.
Outlook: With another year of experience behind them, the Scarlet Knights quarterbacks are expecting better overall execution in 2012, but how much better is an unknown. Nova has a more impressive package of skills, but is also just a year removed from high school. Rutgers will take a conservative step forward in the passing game, with a quantum leap expected in 2013.
Quarterback is not the only position in the backfield staging a heated man-to-man competition. The running backs are jockeying for snaps as well. The Scarlet Knights return last season’s leading rusher, 5-8, 200-pound sophomore Jawan Jamison, who played surprisingly well in his debut. Buried on the depth chart at the beginning of the year, he went on to rush for 897 yards and nine scores on 231 carries, adding eight catches for 62 yards. More effective than explosive as a runner, he reads holes well, and has a habit of bouncing off tacklers for more yards. Jamison is tough on the opposition, using his strength and leverage to punish defenders.
The flashier of the two contenders for the job is 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Savon Huggins , one of the most decorated recruits to ever sign with the Scarlet Knights. He started quickly, but was dogged by injuries and fumbles, and wound up producing just 146 yards and five touchdowns on 56 carries. Healthy and noticeably bigger than last year, he’s looking to make a quantum leap in his second season on campus.
Blocking for Jamison and Huggins will be 6-0, 230-pound sophomore Michael Burton. The returning starter played very well in his first year, supporting the ground game and the passing attack with his physicality. The former high school tailback will also touch the ball occasionally, flashing soft hands as a receiver in 2011.
Watch Out For .... both backs to be heavily involved with the offense, but Jamison to get more carries. Rutgers loves the potential of Huggins, but respects the reliability of its leading returning rusher. Jamison might not be as dangerous as Huggins, but he’s also less likely to get caught behind the line, or put the ball on the grass.
Strength: Two backs for one job. The fact that neither Jamison nor Huggins won the starting outright was actually a positive development. The staff likes both of them. And since they’re just sophomores, there’s justifiable excitement about the future of the running game.
Weakness: Big gainers. No, it was not all their fault, but 2.8 yards per carry for the ground game was abysmal. Plus, of the 461 times Rutgers ran the ball in 2011, only once did it produce more than 50 yards. While the backs certainly need more support from the blockers, they also need to create some occasional excitement on their own.
Outlook: Jamison is a blue-collar, workmanlike runner. Huggins still has a lot to prove. Put the sophomores together, and the Scarlet Knights have a decent ground game that won’t exactly keep opposing defensive coordinators sleepless at night. Figure Jamison with at least 200 carries, and Huggins north of 100, as both players seek out more help from the O-line.
It’ll takes a village to replace Mohamed Sanu. The third round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals caught 115 passes a year ago, nearly as much as the rest of the team combined. One receiver alone will not replace his production. The Knights are holding out hope that 6-3, 235-pound senior Mark Harrison can recapture his 2010 form, when he pulled down a team-high 44 passes for 829 yards and nine touchdowns. At that time, he was an exciting mix of length and speed, with the big paws to pluck the ball out of the air. However, he disappeared as a junior, catching just 14 passes for 274 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Flanked out to the other side will be sophomore Brandon Coleman , one of the most precocious players on offense, if not the entire team. After starting slowly, he erupted in the second half to finish with 17 catches for 552 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, he can create mismatches with his size and his long gait. While he still needs to work on the finer points of being a complete receiver, he’s liable to blossom into one of the Big East’s young offensive stars on physical ability alone.
Depth should not be a problem for the wide receivers, especially now that 6-2, 210-pound senior Jeremy Deering has returned after spending time at running back. He’s still a little raw as a pass-catcher, but possesses the size-speed combo to entice the coaches to find ways to get the ball in his hands. Junior Quron Pratt is the Knights’ leading returning receiver, making 32 grabs for 327 yards and a score in 2011. He’s a quality route-runner, with the long arms to play bigger than his 6-0, 190-pound frame. As healthy as he’s been in two years, senior Tim Wright might finally be able to approach his lofty expectations. He made 11 grabs for 147 yards and two scores a year ago, but has the size and versatility to exceed that output by the end of September.
There’s a two-man race for the tight end job between 6-6, 258-pound senior D.C Jefferson and 6-2, 240-pound junior Paul Carrezola . A former quarterback, Jefferson is limited athletically, but has imposing size and strength when matching up with linebackers or defensive backs. He caught 12 balls for 118 yards a year ago. Carrezola had just four receptions for 35 yards and a score, and needs to improve his blocking skills.
Watch Out For .... Wright to put it all together in 2012. Now that there are finally no lingering effects from the 2010 ACL tear, the senior has finally begun to show hints of the player once pegged as Kenny Britt’s heir apparent. Particularly on third downs, he has the size and hands to become a preferred target of the quarterbacks.
Strength: Size-speed combo. The Scarlet Knights can beat defensive backs with size, and they can jet past them with their speed. Now, they simply need to refine their games in such a way that the number of drops and weak routes are reduced dramatically.
Weakness: A bona fide go-to guy. The Knights receivers spent much of last year watching Sanu make things happen in the passing game. Now that No. 6 is cashing an NFL paycheck, someone must fill the role as the No. 1 target, that guy who the young quarterbacks can count on when it’s third-and-seven in the red zone.
Outlook: After being a one-man gang last fall, the Rutgers wide receivers and tight ends are about to become a collaborative effort. This unit harbors a lot of intriguing raw materials and quality athletes, such as Coleman, for the staff to mold. The key will be to turn those skills into something more than just potential. For the Knights passing attack to emerge from the land of mediocrity, the thoroughbreds must evolve into consistent threats on the outside.
Rutgers, which has struggled mightily in the trenches over the years, has some tinkering to do up front. It’ll do so around five returners who started at least three games in 2011. The best of the group is 6-4, 298-pound sophomore Kaleb Johnson , a revelation in his first season on campus. The Freshman All-American, an eleventh-hour addition to the recruiting class, started 11 games in a table-setting debut. He’ll now move to left tackle, where the staff is confident that his rare athleticism and quick feet will serve him well as he protects the quarterback’s blindside.
Johnson will be backed up on the left side by 6-3, 278-pound junior Andre Civil , who started 11 games here last season. The converted defensive lineman had his share of problems, and still needs to add more muscle, but is one of the best all-around athletes of the unit, and gained a ton of experience in 2011.
Rutgers went the free agency route to find a right tackle, bringing senior R.J. Dill over from Maryland for a one-year rental. The 6-7, 315-pounder started two seasons for the Terps, and is in his fifth year on a campus. He has long arms to go along with the powerful punch to stun pass rushers as they make a path to the backfield.
At center will be 6-4, 295-pound Betim Bujari , who earned a couple of starts at guard in 2011. The sophomore will have to work on his snaps, while becoming more of a leader at the pivot, but possesses a tremendous amount of strength at the position, and a career path that the staff feels will someday lead him to the All-Big East Team.
Right guard looks as if it’ll be manned by 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Taj Alexander , a former defensive lineman who was named the most improved player of the latest spring. He’ll be staying put for the next three seasons, especially after showcasing excellent power in run blocking and retention of the offensive schemes. No. 78 is going to evolve quickly once he starts getting more reps.
The staff will require more time to decide on a left guard. Junior Antwan Lowery was supposed to be the fixture here, and did start three games in 2011, but struggled early and eventually got benched. He looked committed in the spring, playing with more assertiveness, but will still have to shake the challenge of 6-4, 290-pound David Osei . The junior started four games at center last fall, before giving way to Caleb Ruch. He has generally lacked consistency up to this point, which must change if he’s going to derail the momentum of Lowery.
Watch Out For .... Johnson to begin getting compared to former Knights—and current San Francisco 49er—tackle Anthony Davis. Different players, yeah, but Johnson possesses the same high ceiling and advanced ability at a young age that could propel him high into the NFL Draft in two or three years as well. How in the world did this kid get out of the state of Florida?
Strength: The tackles. While neither Johnson nor Dill started last fall where they’ll be in the opener, both will carry high expectations into the new season. The latter is a proven veteran, who has faced some of the ACC’s best pass rushers over the years. The former is an emerging star at left tackle, a blocker the coaches feel can be a brick wall on the left side.
Weakness: Owning the line of scrimmage. Too often last year, the Scarlet Knights were blown off the ball, a key reason why the team averaged a miserable 2.8 yards per carry. With all of the uncertainty and juggling taking place on the interior, Rutgers could continue having a difficult time opening holes for the running backs.
Outlook: Rutgers is getting better, thanks to the addition of Dill and evolution of Johnson and Bujari, but still has a long way to go up front. With little continuity from last season, the unit will look to achieve some semblance of chemistry in the summer that can be carried into the fall. The Knights will improve in 2012, with a chance to really turn the corner in 2013.
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