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2009 Rutgers Preview - Offense
Rutgers C Ryan Blaszczyk
Rutgers C Ryan Blaszczyk
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 18, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knight Offense

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Preview 2009 - Offense


- 2009 CFN Rutgers Preview | 2009 Rutgers Offense
- 2009 Rutgers Defense
| 2009 Rutgers Depth Chart
- 2008 Rutgers Preview | 2007 Rutgers Preview | 2006 Rutgers Preview 

What you need to know: Rutgers’ quest for balance is likely to go unfulfilled this fall. The ground game should be fine. The trio of Joe Martinek, Kordell Young, and Jourdan Brooks will be running behind an Anthony Davis-led fortress that returns all five starters and might be the Big East’s best line. The passing game, however, will be a very different story. Gone are the three main components of the league’s best aerial attack, QB Mike Teel and wide receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. In their place steps uncertainty and mediocrity. The new hurler will likely be one of two seniors, Jabu Lovelace or Domenic Natale, who’ve mostly played meaningless minutes throughout their careers. And Tim Brown aside, the receivers are a colossal mystery, with equally limited resumes. The Knights will lean heavily on the backs, while hoping the new quarterback can exceed modest expectations.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Domenic Natale
3-8, 36 yds
Rushing: Kordell Young
142 carries, 554 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Tim Brown
27 catches, 565 yds, 6 TD

Star of the offense: Junior LT Anthony Davis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Domenic Natale or Jabu Lovelace
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Joe Martinek
Best pro prospect: Davis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Davis, 2) Senior C Ryan Blaszczyk, 3) Senior WR Tim Brown
Strength of the offense: Depth at running back, the offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
Quarterback, wide receiver

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Which of the seniors is going to replace Mike Teel, 6-2, 210-pound Domenic Natale or 6-2, 215-pound Jabu Lovelace? It’s the single most important question Rutgers as it heads into the summer. Teel was sporadic throughout his career, but he was also a four-year starter and the most prolific passer in school history. He’ll be missed. If nothing else, Natale’s story makes good copy. A fifth-year player, he’s been on an interesting, beginning his career at Michigan State as a hot-shot recruit before returning home for one final shot at playing time. He’s got the best arm of the group and a firm grasp on the system, but has thrown just eight career passes and needs to improve his accuracy.

Lovelace is the most experienced of the contenders, having served as Teel’s backup before breaking an ankle early last year. He’s also the best all-around athlete, rushing for 332 yards and four scores on 82 carries in 2007. However, he’s returning from surgery on both ankles and has never been considered an efficient pocket passer. Quick to pull it down and run, he needs to be more patient in order to become a more complete quarterback.

Projected Top Reserves: The loser of the battle between Natale and Lovelace will, in all likelihood, be the No. 2 guy, especially if it’s the latter. Lovelace has more than two years experience preparing for that role and is no stranger to coming off the bench to provide a spark.

Trying to break through and mess with the pecking order is redshirt freshman D.C. Jefferson. While painfully raw as a passer, he has the size and arm strength to keep the coaching staff from becoming impatient. At 6-6 and 240 pounds, he has a cannon and the agility of a much smaller player. He’s a project, but he also has a high enough ceiling to be worth the extra hours of coaching.

Watch Out For… incoming freshman Tom Savage. He’s definitely the future at the position in Piscataway. Savage would like to believe he’s the present as well. Arguably the most heralded quarterback to ever choose the Scarlet Knights, he arrives with a great arm and the confidence of an upperclassmen.
Strength: Experience. Hey, it could be worse. The Knights could be auditioning a pair of redshirt freshmen for the starting job. In Natale and Lovelace, the program has a pair of heady seniors, who know the offense and won’t be intimidated by a close game late in the fourth quarter.
Weakness: Proven passers. Natale is an interesting story, but he has no relevant experience at this level. While Lovelace does have the experience, that was primarily as a scrambler and not as a hurler. Unless Savage is improbably ready to go right away, Rutgers will struggle with its consistency through the air.
Outlook: Teel’s reputation was sullied by ill-timed picks throughout most of his Knight career. It’s about to get better, however. Rutgers fans are going to get a renewed appreciation for their former hurler once they get a good look at this year’s crop of contenders. Greg Schiano might juggle his quarterbacks early and often as he searches for a viable, reliable option.
Rating: 6


Running Backs


Projected Starters: Rutgers didn’t have a single player capable of replacing Ray Rice in 2008, so it used three in an old-fashioned committee. The Knights might take the same approach this fall after failing to name a starter coming out of spring. Junior Kordell Young is leading returning rusher, going for 554 yards and five scores on 142 carries in his return from an ACL tear. However, he’s still having complications with the knee and was forced to sit out the spring. While just 5-9 and 185 pounds, he’s the flashiest of the backs, showing the speed and cutback ability to make people miss in the open field.

Last year’s biggest surprise was delivered by 6-0, 215-pound sophomore Joe Martinek, the hottest back as the season came to the finish line. An afterthought for much of the season, he ended up carrying the ball 76 times for 404 yards and four touchdowns. A no-nonsense, north-south runner, he’s had a terrific offseason, adding more muscle in anticipation of an expanded role.

There’s little finesse about sophomore Jourdan Brooks, the 6-1, 245-pound battering ram. Surprisingly nimble and agile, with a good burst through the hole, he turned 100 carries into 516 yards and six scores. Whether a feature runner or short-yardage option, he’s earned some role in the backfield rotation.

Senior Jack Corcoran returns for his second full season as the starting fullback. A poor-man’s Brian Leonard at 6-1 and 230 pounds, he’s far more versatile than the stereotypical fullback. More of an H-back because of his soft hands, he only carried the ball three times for 11 yards, but had 19 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

Projected Top Reserves: Technically, everyone is a reserve right now, as the staff declined to name a starter at the end of spring camp. At some point during the season, Young, Martinek, and Brooks will all be backups, coming off the bench to provide a blow or a spark. None of the underclassmen are even close to breaking through and taking snaps away from this trio.

Watch Out For… more chances for Corcoran. The bowl game with North Carolina State might have been a sneak preview for the senior, who caught a career-high six passes for 62 yards. Considering the dearth of proven receivers and the inexperience at quarterback, dump offs to No. 19 are going to make an awful lot of sense.
Strength: Depth. No, there’s not a player of Rice’s caliber on the roster, but Rutgers has the next best thing—three diverse backs capable of carrying the load. Go ahead and try to find a program in the country that returns three players, who rushed for at least 98 yards in a game last fall.
Weakness: A true feature back. When you can’t decide on one back, isn’t that just code for a lack of star power? The Scarlet Knights don’t have that one guy who is so talented that he has to get 20-25 touches every Saturday.
Outlook: Rutgers has made a respectable recovery from the departure of Rice, developing three backs, who are talented enough to make plays in the Big East. All eyes will be on the depth chart, which currently features more “ORs” than the Scarlet Knight crew team. Whoever gets the nod, it’s unlikely he’ll be so good that the other two contenders get phased completely out of the picture.
Rating: 7


Receivers


Projected Starters: After enjoying the myriad talents of Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood the last few years, Rutgers is in the unenviable position of replacing both of them. That’s 127 catches and a dozen touchdowns last year alone. Senior Tim Brown will be asked to play a much bigger role after being the long ball complement throughout his career. While only 5-8 and 165 pounds, he has the best jets on the team, stretching defenses with his world-class speed. Over his career, he’s caught 59 passes for 1,107 yards and 11 touchdowns, while averaging almost 21 yards a catch a year ago.

In an effort to address the dearth of experience at receiver, 5-10, 190-pound junior Mason Robinson was shifted here from running back in the spring. Like Brown, he’s another burner, who’s capable of turning a short toss into a huge play. He had a dozen catches for 125 yards a year ago, adding 139 yards and a score on the ground, but needs to use this summer to really hone his pass receiving skills.

Converted wide receiver Shamar Graves has made a nice transition to tight end, starting five games in 2008 and making 16 receptions for 227 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-3, 230-pound junior really came on late in the season, showing an ability to motor past linebackers and pluck balls out of the air above defensive backs.

Projected Top Reserves: The battles for playing time off the bench figure to be fierce this summer. If there’s an edge, it belongs to 6-1, 215-pound junior Julian Hayes, one of the most experienced players in an otherwise green group. However, he’s caught just one pass in his first two seasons, doing most of his work on special teams.

Among the slew of underclassmen competing for playing time, 6-4, 205-pound Tim Wright has stood out in the offseason. Long, lean, and fluid on the deep routes, he’ll conjure up images of a young and unpolished Britt.

Watch Out For… Graves. Brown is the Knights’ best receiver, but will his speed be wasted now that Teel is trying to make an NFL roster? The Rutgers quarterbacks are more likely to use the middle of the field and work intermediate routes, which bodes well for the production of Graves.
Strength: Speed. Whether or not the new quarterback can reach them, Brown and Robinson have the blazing speed that’s going to command respect from opposing secondaries. If nothing else, they should be able to stretch defenses, opening things up for the backs and tight ends underneath.
Weakness: The wide receivers. After Brown, the Knights are going to be a complete mystery at receiver. Robinson has been a running back throughout his career and no one else has more than a single career catch. The decline from the days of Britt and Underwood couldn’t be more dramatic.
Outlook: Although Brown and Graves are decent places to start, Rutgers will need much more from the supporting cast in order to make a dent in a league known for its stingy defensive backfields. The program needs a corps of receivers that can help elevate a quarterback who has no starting experience. This group does not look capable of filling that need.   
Rating: 6


Offensive Line


Projected Starters: Those Rutgers fans looking for a reason to get excited can feast their eyes on this offensive line, which returns all five starters and might be the Big East’s best unit. The front man will be 6-6, 325-pound junior Anthony Davis, a next-level blocker, coming off an all-star season. After playing right guard as a rookie, he made a seamless transition to left tackle, flashing the power and agility of a budding star. With continued development, he’ll be in a position to seriously consider leaving early for the NFL at the end of the season.

Forming a pass-protecting bookend with Davis at right tackle is 6-7, 295-pound senior Kevin Haslam, who’s building a pro resume of his own. A terrific athlete, even after adding weight in the offseason, his versatility was on display a year ago, starting games at both guard and tackle. He’s got the long arms and light feet to continue progressing as a pass blocker.

Holding down the pivot for a third straight year will be 6-4, 295-pound senior Ryan Blaszczyk, a former defensive tackle, who’s become a rock at center. While not an elite athlete, he’s had a steadying presence on the line, doing a great job of calling out signals and blowing open holes for the running backs.

While 6-4, 285-pound sophomore Caleb Ruch might eventually succeed Blaszczyk at center, he’s the starter at left guard for now. One of the strongest players on the team, he plays much bigger than his size, locking on to defensive linemen and bullying them out of the play. After a solid debut of action, he’ll be looking to take another big step in his evolution as an interior lineman.

As good as advertised in his first year out of high school, 6-8, 310-pound Art Forst has the opening at right guard in a stranglehold. He played in nine games in 2008, starting eight and improving as the season progressed. He has an upside that’s as high as his inseam, blending improved upper body strength with the footwork of a tackle. Before he’s done, he’s going to be recognized as an all-conference player.

Projected Top Reserves: The Knights’ top lineman off the bench is 6-5, 295-pound junior Howard Barbieri, who has come a long way since walking on to the program. A part-time starter a year ago, his ability to play multiple positions is a luxury that cannot be overstated. While currently listed as Ruch’s backup at left guard, he’s always on call at tackle, center, and even tight end.

Over at right tackle, 6-5, 280-pound sophomore Desmond Stapleton is preparing for his final year as a backup before taking over for Haslam in 2010. He needs to add a little more weight and fine-tune his technique, such as playing lower, but that’s what he’ll be looking to do in his sophomore year. He delivers a nice punch as a pass protector and has the size coaches want in a tackle.

Watch Out For… this group to pick up where it left off in 2008. A big part of Rutgers’ season-ending was the play of an offensive line that returns virtually intact. With an entire offseason to gel, the front wall should be the cornerstone of the Scarlet Knight offense.
Strength: Experience. Rutgers has a solid rotation of six players, who started games in 2008, a huge luxury that few schools enjoy. The tackles and center, in particular, have had multiple seasons in the lineup, which should provide comfort for the new starting quarterback.
Weakness: Run blocking. The Scarlet Knights have room for growth as run blockers, paving the way for just the 80th-ranked ground game in the country last fall. With a few more holes and a little less penetration, Rutgers should improve on last season’s average of less than four yards a carry.
Outlook: Considering last season was supposed to be the rebuilding year, Rutgers fared rather well along the offensive line. Now that everyone, especially Ruch and Forst, is a year older, the Knights will dominate a bunch of opponents this fall. Easily the strongest link in a suspect offense, this unit is going to make everyone else’s job a whole lot easier.
Rating: 8