2013 Rutgers Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knight Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Rutgers remains in a rut. The Scarlet Knights have ranked no higher than 97th nationally in total offense over the last four seasons, slipping to 104th a year ago. New coordinator Ron Prince will need to dig deep into his coaching bag of tricks in 2013. Most of Prince's attention will justifiably go in the direction of the backfield, which houses a confidence-deprived quarterback and a running back hoping to fulfill lofty expectations. QB Gary Nova was up-and-down throughout his sophomore year, finishing it with a thud. He's the starter, though, and someone Prince feels is capable of far more consistency. RB Savon Huggins gets his best chance to start since becoming one of the highest-rated recruits in school history two years ago. He has to be up to the challenge since Rutgers puts such a heavy emphasis on the ground game. Rangy WR Brandon Coleman should again be the star of the offense, while the line is the offensive strength. However, there could be some shuffling up front before the staff finds the right combination in the trenches.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Brandon Coleman
Passing: Gary Nova
221-388, 2,695 yds, 22 TDs, 16 INTs
Rushing: Savon Huggins
119 carries, 410 yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: Brandon Coleman
43 catches, 718 yds, 10 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior Savon Huggins
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Leonte Carroo
Best pro prospect: Coleman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Coleman, 2) Junior OL Kaleb Johnson, 3) Senior OG Antwan Lowery
Strength of the offense: Experience behind center, pass protection, veteran O-line, fumbles
Weakness of the offense: Consistency of the passing game, running back, wide receiver depth, big plays, third-down conversions, red-zone conversions
The upcoming season is a huge one for Gary Nova. It'll be important for him and crucial to the fate of the Scarlet Knights offense. He's been erratic through his first two seasons on campus, getting flustered under pressure and making far too many mistakes in the passing game. Last season, for instance, Nova completed 221-of-388 passes for 2,695 yards, 22 touchdowns and 16 picks. The staff, especially new offensive coordinator Ron Prince, wants to see more of the kid that strafed Arkansas for five scoring strikes than the one that was intercepted six times in a loss to Kent State. Head coach Kyle Flood has stuck behind his 6-2, 225-pound quarterback, but Nova will hear footsteps if he can't transform his game.
The Scarlet Knights have a luxury behind Nova, a veteran backup with a ton of starting experience. Senior Chas Dodd has started 16 games, though only threw one pass last season. He's a scrappy 6-0, 200-pounder with a strong arm and the moxie to make something happen when the pocket collapses. If forced off the sidelines in an emergency, Dodd can pull out a game for Rutgers.
Watch Out For .... Nova to look like a very different player when the season begins. The junior has had a great offseason so far, dedicating himself to the weight room and the film room. Plus, he appeared to have more zip on his passes and more overall confidence, which the staff hopes will bleed into September.
Strength: Two starters, one job. The only thing better than a returning starting quarterback are two returning starting quarterbacks. Since Dodd and Nova have both played a ton over the past couple of seasons, the Scarlet Knights have the luxury of multiple players capable of leading the offense with assurance. Plus, in the event of an injury to Nova, the offense won't be forced to trot an unproven novice from the bench.
Weakness: Consistency. The problem with Nova a year ago was that he struggled to string together crisp performances. Sustained excellence eluded him, as did accuracy. In fact, over the final three games of the year, he completed just 48-of-105 passes. And No. 10 was picked off in each of the final seven contests.
Outlook: Nova appears to have turned the corner in his evolution as Rutgers' starting quarterback, but spring drills can often be a tease. The junior must show that he can build on his growth in practice by carrying it over to the start of the season. Nova is smart, and he's won a lot of football games going back to his high school days. But he has to play with more consistency now that he's one of the offensive leaders.
Jawan Jamison left the program with two years of eligibility remaining. Odd move considering he didn't get drafted until the seventh round by the Washington Redskins. Losing a 1,000-yard rusher will hurt the offense, yet also create an opening for underachieving junior Savon Huggins. The 6-0, 200-pound former five-star gem has been a bust so far, but he's only at the halfway point of his career. Through two years, he's averaging just 3.2 yards on the ground, grinding out 556 yards and seven scores on 175 carries. Huggins is a classic downhill, workhorse runner who is at his best when he squares his shoulders and powers his way between the tackles.
There's a two-man race for the No. 2 spot behind Huggins on the depth chart. Sophomore Paul James is the bigger, more physical option, a 6-0, 205-pounder cut from the same mold as Huggins. The former walk-on brings an assertive demeanor to the backfield, but has been hamstrung with injuries in the early stages of his career.
Bringing a completely different element to the backfield is redshirt freshman Desmond Peoples. He's a quick-stepping 5-8, 175-pounder who's very difficult to bring down when not wrapped up. He has performed well enough during the offseason to earn a few touches a game, provided he gets a handle on the ball.
Junior Michael Burton returns to fullback after missing the final eight games of 2012 to a lower leg injury. The 6-0, 230-pounder was missed by the running game. Not only does an outstanding job of creating daylight for the tailback, but he'll also carry the ball on occasion, providing Rutgers with a bruiser in short yardage.
Watch Out For .... how well Huggins' embraces the inevitable, a starring role for the first time in his three-year career. He's going to be one of the pivotal players on offense, shouldering the load on the ground for as long as he earns it. This opportunity has as much to do with Huggins' demeanor and readiness as it does his physical ability.
Strength: Between the tackles runners. Led by the efficient, no-nonsense Huggins, Rutgers is largely comprised of north-south runners who'll keep churning their legs until the whistle blows. Not only will Huggins be good for 25 or even 30 carries a game if needed, but he actually gets stronger the more he touches the ball.
Weakness: Pop. Huggins is the guy who brings a career average of 3.2 yards a carry into 2013 … and he's the undisputed starter. The Scarlet Knights need someone who can pick up chunk yards on the ground, stretching out the defense a little. If they're consistently grinding out yards, it'll entice defenses to pinch a little closer, without paying the price.
Outlook: Like Gary Nova at quarterback, 2013 shapes up as a pivotal year for Huggins. Knights' fans have been waiting for the blue-chip recruit to emerge, and now he has a golden opportunity to be the every-down back. While there's no doubt Huggins has a base of talent, he's got to start making more yards on his own and picking up real estate after contact. If he can't deliver, Rutgers really doesn't have a viable backup plan on the roster.
On those rare occasions when Rutgers popped off a big play on offense in 2012, junior Brandon Coleman usually had the ball in his hands. Named All-Big East Second Team in only his second year, he caught a school-record-tying 10 touchdown passes on 43 grabs for 718 yards. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, he enjoys an enormous physical advantage on each defender who lines up opposite him. Coleman's long limbs allow him to gallop through the secondary, and calmly pluck the ball out of the air. He's a mismatch every time he runs a pass pattern, especially when the end zone comes into focus.
When Coleman faces those inevitable double-teams from defensive backs, who is going to step up on the outside? The Scarlet Knights are going to miss Mark Harrison who caught 44 passes in each of the last two seasons. Hoping to fill the void will be 6-0, 190-pound senior Quron Pratt, a spot starter during his career. He's a blue-collar veteran, bringing good hands, tight routes and unheralded blocking to the corps. Pratt could be a 40-catch guy for Rutgers, though matching Harrison's money plays won't be easy.
Now that D.C. Jefferson is an Arizona Cardinal, the full-time job at tight end belongs to 6-2, 240-pound senior Paul Carrezola. The workmanlike six-game starter from last season won't threaten defenses down the seam, as evidenced by his eight catches for 45 yards and a score. He is, however, a steady blocker, with reliable hands in the passing game.
Until proven otherwise, depth is going to be a problem for the passing attack. The leading returner receiver among the backups is 5-10, 175-pound junior Miles Shuler who only had five receptions for 71 yards in 2012. The former quarterback, with track speed, is still making his transition to wide receiver, working on his ball skills and the finer points of his game. Among the younger wideouts, none has a higher ceiling than 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Leonte Carroo. The four-star gem from a year ago has the size, speed and toughness to conjure up memories of a young Mohamed Sanu. Carroo is poised to become an impact player on the outside as early as this fall.
Watch Out For .... Carroo to finish the year as the Scarlet Knights' second most explosive receiver. Sure, he's young and still a little raw, but the flattening of his learning curve was becoming evident in the spring. He has so much upside from a physical standpoint that it's only a matter of time before the production begins to match the potential.
Strength: A veteran presence. The starting lineup, including Carrezola, consists of a couple of seniors and a junior, Coleman, who could parlay this season into early entry into the 2014 NFL Draft. This group does a lot of little well, from cradling passes to getting a helmet on opposing defenders on running plays.
Weakness: Depth. There's Coleman … and question marks. Sure, Pratt is a heady senior, but he's not going to require a second defensive back or a special gameplan to slow him down. If one of the young kids doesn't play beyond his pay scale in 2013, the Scarlet Knights are going to be very thin and inconsistent after the leading man.
Outlook: The good news is that Coleman will once again be tormenting defensive backs with his long limbs and even longer stride. He could be a candidate for national honors with proper support from the quarterbacks. However, the Knights have to be more than a one-man gang on the outside for the passing game to flourish. Pratt is solid, yet better suited to be a No. 3, and the young kids need to grow up in a hurry.
Any offensive optimism in Piscataway will have to be born on the offensive line. Four starters are back, including a couple of reigning all-stars. Helping give the Knights one of the league's best guard tandems will be 6-4, 300-pound junior Kaleb Johnson. He built on a terrific debut with the program by adding weight, fine-tuning his kick slide and earning Second Team All-Big East in his first year at left tackle. However, he moved to left guard, a more natural position, as part of a late-spring shakeup in the trenches. Johnson is uniquely built to protect the pocket, light on his feet, with the athleticism of a blocking tight end. If he grows as much this season as he did a year ago, there could be a difficult decision to be made in December regarding the 2014 NFL Draft.
If Johnson remains at guard, it'll mean that the staff is completely comfortable with little-used sophomore Keith Lumpkin at left tackle. The 6-8, 310-pound former basketball player, with the enormous wingspan, is coming off a breakout offseason in which he cracked the starting lineup. Fingers are crossed that he'll starting fulfilling his potential in 2013.
Antwan Lowery wasn't even assured of winning a starting job last summer, yet he ended up being named to the All-Big East First Team. He struggled under Greg Schiano in 2011, getting benched and even considering quitting the game. However, football became fun again in 2012 after his O-line coach—Kyle Flood—was promoted. The 6-4, 305-pound Lowery allowed just one sack in 13 games, and was an unheralded component of Jawan Jamison's 1,000-yard season. Still, there are no guarantees on this team, so a poor spring has the all-star fighting to hold his job at right guard.
Pushing, and at times surpassing, Lowery at right guard in the spring was redshirt freshman Chris Muller. One of the program's top recruits of 2012 has the 6-6, 315-pound frame and the light feet of a tackle, but will be used on the interior at this stage of his career. While the summer will dictate whether or not he can maintain this spot, he's clearly trending north.
Over at right tackle, 6-4, 290-pound junior Taj Alexander is holding a lead on 6-3, 275-pound senior Andre Civil ; both players arrived in Piscataway as defensive linemen. Alexander is one of the more versatile Knights up front, starting four games at right guard in 2012. He just needs more time and more reps to become completely comfortable on offense. The other nine games at right guard last season were started by Civil, who brings 21 career starts into his final year of eligibility. Undersized and little compared to Alexander, Civil is better suited to coming off the bench.
Rutgers faces less uncertainty at center, where 6-4, 290-pound junior Betim Bujari returns for his second season as a full-timer. More steady than spectacular, he's clean with his snaps, knows his assignments and plays hard to the whistle. Bujari's name won't be called often during games, which is actually a good thing.
Watch Out For .... how the depth chart shakes out in August. Bujari is set at the pivot, but there's uncertainty everywhere else in the trenches for the Scarlet Knights. If one of the young blockers, like Lumpkin or Muller, regresses, it could set off a chain of events that forces other linemen to relocate to different positions.
Strength: Pass protection. While it's hard to imagine Rutgers protecting the pocket as well as it did a year ago, a slew of returning starters should ensure that any drop-off will be nominal. The Scarlet Knights, flush with agility and quality athletes, led the Big East and ranked No. 8 in the country, yielding just 11 sacks in 13 games.
Weakness: Dominating the line of scrimmage. The Scarlet Knights continue to have problems getting a push off the snap, which allows their backs to absorb contact too early in the play. Sure, there was improvement versus the previous year, but Rutgers still normed just 3.6 yards per carry, despite blocking for an all-conference back.
Outlook: This summer is going to be very interesting for line coach Damian Wroblewski as he attempts to get his five best linemen on the field. Competition is sure to be heated throughout August, especially at right guard, where Lowery is being tested. If Wroblewski can find the right combination, his unit has a chance to be deep and talented, with a nice blend of veterans and rising cornerstones of the front wall.
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