2014 Rutgers Preview: What You Must Know
Rutgers TE Tyler Kroft
Rutgers TE Tyler Kroft
Posted May 23, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Rutgers (Getty Images)

2014 Rutgers Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Rutgers Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen combined with nine returning starters should make the Rutgers offense go, but can the quarterback play be consistent and keep the mistakes to a minimum? In a big battle for the starting gig, Gary Nova is the veteran, but he's an interception machine and needs a young receiving corps to rise up right away. Fortunately, the ground game should carry the team with a very deep, very good backfield with several fantastic options working behind a terrific line with all five starters returning. Friedgen's plan is to utilize all the team speed and the good group of backs in space by getting them on the move in open areas, but the downfield passing game has to be far sharper and the interceptions have to stop.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: After a disastrous season in several areas, the defense has to hope for even more from the line that did a great job of getting into the backfield, and has to get some semblance of production from a secondary that got ripped to shreds on a regular basis. The linebacking corps is very active and very athletic, and it's strong at getting around the ball helping a defense that finished fourth in the nation against the run. However, teams didn't have to run when they had no problems cranking out big numbers through the air. It's not a big defense, especially up front by Big Ten standards, but tackles Darius Hamilton and Kenneth Kirksey should give offensive lines fits.

Players You Need To Know

1. RB Paul James, Jr.
It was supposed to be a crowded backfield, and it should be again, but James ended up breaking through finishing with a team-leading 881 yards and nine scores averaging 5.6 yards per carry and catching 11 passes for 107 yards. At 6-0 and 210 pounds, he has enough size and power to get by, and when he was healthy, he was dominant starting out the year with three straight 100-yard games with 182 yards against Fresno State, 119 yards and three scores against Norfolk State, and 192 yards and three touchdowns against Eastern Michigan. Hobbled by an ankle injury, he missed four games and wasn't quite right the rest of the way, he was excellent when he got in a groove, but he needs the ball and he needs to get into a lather. The former walk-on is smart and can be a workhorse, but he has issues staying healthy.

2. TE Tyler Kroft, Jr.
The 6-6, 240-pounder went from being used as a key special teamer to the team's leading receiver, catching 43 passes for 573 yards and four scores. The First Team All-American Athletic Conference performer was steady, but he occasionally came up with the really big play tearing up Arkansas for 133 yards and a score on six catches and making eight grabs for 72 yards against South Florida. While he'll get physical for the ground game when he has to, he's at his best as a reliable route-runner who does a good job of using his big frame and catching radius to make plays.

3. LB Steve Longa, Soph.
The team's leading tackler came up with 123 stops with three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, making 14 tackles against SMU and coming up with 12 against Fresno State, Eastern Michigan, Temple and Notre Dame. At 6-1 and 220 pounds, he's not all that big, but he's a great hitter with unlimited range, speed and athleticism. Able to work on the weakside and be a factor against the pass, he can also be utilized more to attack in the backfield to try to do something, anything, to help out the secondary.

4. DT Darius Hamilton, Jr.
At 6-4 and 260 pounds he's not built line a big defensive tackle, but he makes up for it with tremendous interior quickness and a great burst off the ball. Able to work either inside or out, he'll occasionally see time as a big defensive end to get him to the quarterback when needed, but he's tough enough to hold up on the inside. The star of the 2012 recruiting class is playing up to his potential, and now he should be a star that everything works around after coming up with 48 tackles with a team-leading 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.

5. OG Kaleb Johnson, Sr.
Good enough to be tried out as a right tackle at the next level, he could've left early, and now he needs to star in the interior. One of the main men for the running game and the potential star on the veteran line, the 6-4, 305-pound left guard is an athletic, active blocker after to step outside and work at tackle if needed. Even though he's built for left tackle, he's a better guard with good athleticism and nice feet for the ground game. He's too quick for most interior pass rushers.

6. C Betim Bujari, Sr.
The line came up with a great year from the senior at center, starting seven of the first eight games and doing a nice job as a steady, consistent blocker with decent size and good smarts. At 6-4 and 295 pounds, he's built a bit like a tackle and can work at guard if needed. Staying healthy is a must after struggling through a leg injury, but when he's right, he's a potential all-star blocker and a technician for a veteran line.

7. LB Kevin Snyder, Sr.
Able to play anywhere in the linebacking corps, Snyder ended up starting every game on the outside and finishing second on the team with 96 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, he has decent size and excellent range and athletic ability, and now he could be used even more as a pass rusher. Good against the pass, he's quick enough to hang around with tight ends and stay with the running backs on short-range passes, but he's at his best getting in on tackles highlighted by a ten-stop day against Arkansas and 12 against Temple.

8. RB Savon Huggins, Sr. or RB Desmon Peoples, Soph.
Can he come back from shoulder surgery to shine again as a key part of the rushing attack, or will he be pushed aside for rising sophomore Desmon Peoples, a smallish, quick back with the upside to come up with big plays? At 6-0 and 200 pounds, Huggins has the size, and he has the five-star talent to have been a special recruit for the program. However, he was a bust early on in his career coming up with just 556 yards in his first two games, and last year he ran for 286 yards and two scores. Huggins is a classic downhill, workhorse runner who is at his best when he squares his shoulders and powers his way between the tackles.

9. SS Lorenzo Waters, Sr.
The lone returning starter in the secondary last season, he did what he could, but the unit as a whole really, really struggled to keep the big plays to a minimum. The 6-0, 205-pound veteran started 11 games at strong safety finishing third on the team with 62 tackles with a pick and four broken up passes. Very smart and very experienced, he's a good tackler and great against the run, but the defense needs him to be a bigger help when the ball is in the air.

10. QB Gary Nova, Sr.
Let's settle down the quarterback controversy – Nova should be the main man, for now. He's getting stiff competition from Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano, but with his experience, he'll be the one who gets the first crack at carrying the offense into live in the Big Ten. At 6-2 and 220 pounds he has decent size and a live arm, but he's been way too erratic and he throws too many picks pitching 14 picks to go along with his 18 touchdown passes and 2.159 yards. Not accurate enough so far, he hit just 54.5% of his throws last season and has 39 career interceptions, but when he's on, he can put up big numbers and keep up in shootouts, hitting the 300-yard mark three times. However, before missing the final three games of the year, he completed just 29-of-72 passes in losses to Cincinnati and UCF.

- 2014 Rutgers Preview