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2007 Rutgers Preview - Offense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 26, 2007


Preview 2007 Rutgers Scarlet Knight Offense

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Preview 2007 - Offense


- 2007 Rutgers Preview | 2007 Rutgers Defense Preview
-
2007 Rutgers Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Rutgers Preview 

What you need to know: Although Rutgers is more than content to pound the ball between the tackles 30 times a game with All-America running back Ray Rice, it wouldn’t mind a little more offensive balance this year.  Whether that happens depends on the development of junior quarterback Mike Teel who struggled badly last year, but did play his best ball at the end of the year and has a speedy group of receivers needed to author a rebound.  While question marks exist on the interior of the offensive line, the tackle tandem of seniors Pedro Sosa and Jeremy Zuttah is one of the best in the country.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Mike Teel
164-296, 1,794 yds, 12 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Ray Rice
335 carries, 1,794 yds, 20 TD
Receiving: Kenny Britt
29 catches, 440 yds, 2 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Ray Rice
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Mike Teel
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Kenny Britt
Best pro prospect: Rice
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Rice  2) T Pedro Sosa  3) T Jeremy Zuttah
Strength of the offense: The running game, the tackles
Weakness of the offense: Consistent passing game

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Now that the training wheels are off, it’s time for junior Mike Teel to cut down on his mistakes and develop into a more consistent passer.  Rutgers’ ability to sustain last year’s excellence could depend on it.  That Teel had a rocky first season as the starter was no startling revelation, however, 23 picks in just over a year of work simply won’t cut it for a program that wants to be recognized as a perennial Big East contender.  The good news is that Teel did play his best ball in the Knights’ final three games, finishing with 12 touchdown passes and 2,135 yards, giving hope that the light was beginning to turn on.  A drop-back passer with good arm strength, he’s not going to be a threat to leave the pocket and scramble for yardage.

Projected Top Reserves: For the second straight year, sophomore Jabu Lovelace will be the backup to Teel behind center.  A classic dual-threat with great speed and elusiveness, he could tempt head coach Greg Schiano into using him as a situational change-of-pace to the far more stationary Teel.  Lovelace got a few snaps in blowouts last year, allowing him to get a little more comfortable with the speed of the college game. 

Redshirt freshman Chris Paul-Etienne is just 6-1 and 180 pounds, but can throw the ball a mile and, like Lovelace, has terrific mobility.  If he remains buried on the depth chart, the coaches may be forced to temporarily find him a new home just to get his athleticism on the field.             

Watch Out For…sophomore Domenic Natale.  Just two years ago, Natale was off to Michigan State as one of the top-rated high school quarterbacks in the country.  Since then, he’s left the Spartans and settled on Rutgers as the place where he’ll try to resuscitate his career.  A crisp passer, Natale is ready to challenge for the No. 2 spot if he can get back quick enough from elbow surgery.
Strength: Experience.  Teel is just a junior, but he’s seen and done more than any returning quarterback in the history of Scarlet Knight football.  He’s already won a bowl game, played under the national microscope and handled the media crunch, all of which will further his development over the next two seasons.
Weakness: Consistency.  Teel got better pass protection than any other quarterback in the country, yet you couldn’t tell by watching his first nine games.  It’s an absolute must for the junior to improve at reading defenses, cut down on his turnovers and make better use of a receiving corps that’s loaded with speed and upside.
Outlook: With a year of starting experience behind him and a very solid supporting cast around him, Teel should be vastly improved from 2006.  If not, Schiano might turn to a roster that features the most depth and young talent at the position since he arrived seven years ago.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: With most of the pre-season attention going to star fullback Brian Leonard, then-sophomore Ray Rice unexpectedly rose up to become the face of the program and the catalyst for an 11-win year.  In the greatest individual season in Knight history, he scampered for 1,794 yards and 20 touchdowns, en route to landing on numerous All-America teams and finishing seventh in the Heisman voting.  At 5-9 and 200 pounds, he’s neither the biggest nor the fastest back in the country, but his vision and balance are impeccable.  Filling the massive void left by Leonard will take a lot more than just 423 rushing yards and 38 receptions. 

Besides Greg Schiano, he’s been the single most important factor in Rutgers’ ascent, putting Jack Corcoran in the unenviable position of following in his footsteps.  The sophomore played in 12 games as a true freshman, displaying hints of the skill set that made Leonard so special.  He’s a very physical blocker, but also has soft hands out of the backfield and can pick up the tough yards when asked.      

Projected Top Reserves: Schiano plans to use Kordell Young for more than just the occasional breather for his franchise back.  The coach recognizes that the 5-9, 185-pound sophomore is a genuine game-breaker, and will invent ways to get the ball in his hands.  Whether he’s taking handoffs or a swing pass, Young has the speed and quickness to hit a home run with even a sliver of daylight. 

In the event that Corcoran gets hurt or can’t handle the pressure of replacing Leonard, the Knights will turn to Jean Beljour, a senior whose primary responsibilities have come on special teams and as a lead blocker.

Watch Out For… Young.  In this sport, the name Kordell conjures up images of a versatile athlete that can dent a defense in a multitude of different ways.  Young has the skills and the giddyup to be excellent in a reserve role this fall.
Strength: The presence of Rice.  Even without the hint of a passing game for most of the year, Rice was magnificent as the focal point of the Scarlet Knight offense.  If Teel gives opposing defenses reason to reconsider stacking the line, the junior back might actually be more dangerous in 2007.
Weakness: Absence of a true power back.  Rice is plenty tough and proved he’s a legit workhorse, but both he and Young are not the types of backs that are going to move a pile or intimidate a linebacker.  As a complement, it wouldn’t hurt to have a 230-pound bruiser that could soften a defense or wear it out late in games.  If Rice is lost for any length of time, Young doesn’t have the heft to handle 20-25 carries, and after him, the backfield is perilously thin.
Outlook: As long as Rice is healthy, the running game will be fine, but without Leonard, Rutgers will be playing without a net this fall.  In complementary roles, Young and Corcoran will blossom, giving the offense a couple of unique weapons to divert some attention away from No. 27.
Rating: 9

Receivers

Projected Starters: The Scarlet Knight wide receivers are young, fast and prepared to offset the loss of two really good tight ends, future pros Clark Harris and Sam Johnson.  The budding star of the group is Kenny Britt, a 6-4 and 205-pound sophomore who exploded for 29 catches for 440 yards and two scores in the second half of last season.  Long and strong, he has the stride to get behind a secondary and the big mitts to win jump balls with defenders. 

When Shawn Tucker broke his ankle last September, junior Tiquan Underwood moved into the lineup, catching 23 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns before getting injured himself.  He can make the spectacular grab on one series and then drop an easy ball on the next, needing to sharpen his consistency to remain on the first unit. 

The successor to Harris at tight end is likely to be junior Kevin Brock, although the competition lining up behind him is deep and diverse.  He’s been used mostly as a blocker during his Knight career, however, the 6-5, 245-pound former wide receiver also has the soft hands to be a factor in the passing.  The coaching staff believes if he can stay healthy, Brock will continue the school’s recent run of outstanding tight ends.             

Projected Top Reserves: After Underwood injured his leg, sophomore Tim Brown burst onto the scene with a touchdown in the finale against West Virginia and two more versus Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.  He’s a mere 5-8 and 150 pounds, but has legitimate 4.2 speed which means the staff will be looking for more ways to get him involved in the offense in 2007. 

After playing in all 13 games and catching seven passes, Rutgers is counting on more production from James Townsend, a 6-1, 195-pound senior who previously played for Iowa. 

Senior Marcus Daniels is poised to be one of this year’s pleasant surprises after sitting out all of last season with a groin injury.  Finally back to 100%, he has the size and experience to finish his college career as a key contributor. 

Speedy sophomore Dennis Campbell played in 12 games in 2006, catching 11 balls and laying the groundwork for more playing time this year.  While he won’t do any damage over the middle, as an outside receiver, he’ll test opposing corners on deep routes.  There’s a logjam at tight end which is actually a good thing for the Scarlet Knights. 

No one of Harris’ caliber is on the roster, but the depth is actually pretty solid.  Indiana import Chris Rudanovic is actually the most experienced of all the tight ends, courtesy of his three seasons in Bloomington.  A 6-5, 255-pound veteran, he won’t catch many passes, but does bring senior leadership and will be a factor in the running game. 

Yet another Big Ten transfer, former Michigan State Spartan Craig McGovern, is also starting over in Piscataway.  Considered one of the nation’s top tight ends two years ago, the sophomore has the speed and hands to be an ideal option in a pro-style attack. 

Watch Out For…redshirt freshman Shamar Graves.  Along with Britt and Brown, Graves helped make 2006 the best one-year haul of wide receivers in program history.  For now, however, he’s a 220-pound tight end who’s trying to learn a new position.  Wherever he plays, at 6-3 with great leaping ability, Graves is going to be a factor in this year’s offense.
Strength: Size.  With the exception of Brown and Campbell, who can both fly, every Rutgers receiver is athletic and over six-feet tall which will present major challenges to secondaries with undersized defensive backs.   
Weakness: Inexperience.  It sure would have helped to get back Shawn Tucker who lost his appeal for a sixth year of eligibility in February.  The receivers have a ton of potential, but most of the key players are young, and with youth will come the occasional dry spells, missed assignments and dropped balls.  
Outlook: There’s a lot of upside, including at tight end where more than one player will be counted on to contribute.  If Teel matures alongside them, the wide receivers, especially Britt, have a chance to be one of the team’s strengths by October.           
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The Scarlet Knights are set at tackle with all-Big East seniors Pedro Sosa and Jeremy Zuttah.  After that?  A degree of uncertainty.  The Rutgers offensive line may have been the single most underrated unit in the country in 2006, paving the way for Ray Rice’s heroics and allowing the fewest sacks in America.  Gone, however, from that group are right guard Cameron Stephenson and center Darnell Stapleton, the heart of the line. 

Replacing Stapleton will be sophomore Ryan Blaszczyk who hasn’t taken a snap in two years.  He’s worked extremely hard in the off-season for this opportunity and now has to go out and prove that he can be the team’s rock in the middle. 

The guards will be senior Mike Fladell and junior Mike Gilmartin.  At 6-8 and 325 pounds, Fladell is the line’s most imposing figure and a returning starter that played very well as a run blocker on the left side.  Gilmartin is ready for a promotion after logging valuable minutes as a backup the last two seasons.  A versatile player that can also play tackle if needed, he’ll settle in next to Zuttah at right guard after recovering from off-season surgery. 

Zuttah and Sosa began their careers as cornerstone recruits and will end them as all-Big East performers and candidates for the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy.  Sosa is 6-5 and 290 pounds with the long arms to wall off pass rushers and the agile feet to protect Mike Teel’s blindside.  Zuttah is a model of versatility, having started at left guard and right tackle the last two years.  With a chance to finally play the same position two years in a row, he could be special this fall.                       

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman tackle Mo Lange represents a prominent part of the future along the Rutgers offensive line.  The 6-7 native of Germany will soak up as much as he can from Sosa and Zuttah because he’ll be battling to replace one of them next April. 

Ditto Kevin Haslam, the Knights’ other 6-7 backup tackle who played in four games a year ago and is a turned ankle away from being in the starting lineup.  

Although senior Dan Mazan has played sparingly since transferring from Penn State, he’s a 6-4, 290-pound veteran of the trenches who’ll be an insurance policy behind Fladell at left guard.  Rutgers beat out Louisville and Purdue to land Dave McClain in 2005, and now it hopes to start collecting the dividends.  A physical drive blocker that can either play guard or center, he’s a no-nonsense plugger that’s ready to make significant contributions.                  

Watch Out For… incoming freshman Anthony Davis.  Ohio State, Miami, USC and Florida State wanted him.  Rutgers got him, a testament to how far the program has progressed at keeping local talent from leaving New Jersey.  Arguably the top high school tackle in the country, Davis is a massive 6-6 and 350 pounds, yet is surprisingly light on his feet and agile.  Literally the biggest thing to hit the campus in a long time, he could skyrocket up the depth chart once he arrives.
Strength: The tackles.  With Sosa and Zuttah sealing off the edge, good luck getting pressure on Teel from the outside.  If opposing defenses want to disrupt the Scarlet Knight quarterback, they better be equipped with defensive tackles that can get penetration right up the gut.
Weakness: Center.  At arguably the most important position on the line, Rutgers will be making the transition from ultra-steady Stapleton to Blaszczyk, an inexperienced sophomore with big shoes to fill.  If he struggles at being the quarterback of this line, don’t be shocked if the staff asks Zuttah to make one more position switch, opening the door for Davis to start, while solidifying the pivot.
Outlook: Considering the job line coach Kyle Flood has done the last two years, he has more than enough returning talent in 2007 to whip this gang into a cohesive unit.  The Scarlet Knights will run and pass block equally well this fall, even if the underbelly is a little softer than it was a year ago.
Rating: 8

 

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2007 Rutgers Preview - Defense
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2007 Rutgers Preview - Depth Chart
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