Rutgers football 2011 season outlook: special teams and coaching

Special teams

K: San San Te's career as a field goal kicker was marked by repeated bouts of inconsistency, and that trend continued throughout the 2011 season. Te's field goal percentage jumped somewhat last year, but regressed as a senior below 70%. Against Louisville, his inaccuracy was one of several key determining factors in the loss. Missing long kicks is one thing; outside of 45 yards can be a challenge for any kicker, and the dilution and spread out of talent in the college game probably makes anything beyond 40 an adventure. Beyond the raw statistics though, not having the threat of a field goal in an offense's back pocket inevitably has an effect on all playcalling.

For all of Jeremy Ito's accolades in preceding San San Te, he only settled in at making 75% of his kicks or so, and had his fair share of bad games (e.g., Illinois in 2005.) Te's struggles in the 20s and 30s though, they have been a repeated cause for alarm. Kickers, well, projecting them is somewhat of a challenge. There aren't that many top performers, and scouting and developing them seems to be entirely a matter of chance. Your guess as to incoming freshman Kyle Federico's performance next season is as good as mine. The general rule seems to be that there are only so many dependable kickers. If you look at this from a national perspective though, Te stands out with a few other names (Blair Walsh from Georgia and Kevin Harper from Pitt) as having a lot of attempts despite a sub-70% field goal percentage.

P: Freshman Anthony DiPaula enrolled early, but took a redshirt with the emergence of junior college walk-on Justin Doerner. Doerner, eh, he's passable. The one big edge he has on the graduated Teddy Dellaganna is that Doerner can get punts off without Dellaganna's long windup, which practically invited block attempts from opposing teams. He's passable, and certainly far down the team's list of concerns here or elsewhere. (Unlike a kicker, a punter probably is not going to invite much in the way of vitriol, outside of the failed 2008 Ito rugby punt experiment when Dellaganna redshirted.) Doerner lacked Dellaganna's booming leg though, which will at least open up an opportunity for a fair competition with DiPaula next season.

KR/PR: Jeremy Deering isn't a single-minded specialist like Nick Williams, but fared well in the absence of Mason Robinson.. The touchdown against USF may have saved the season, and he did his job otherwise. Jordan Thomas didn't really do all that much in his limited opportunities, which was a surprise given the explosion he showed as a running back in 2010. Mohamed Sanu basically returned punts because Rutgers strategically chose to eschew returns to go after blocks. If that's the case again in 2012, you have to imagine they'll throw someone like Tim Wright, Quron Pratt, J.T. Tartacoff etc... back there. Robinson returns next year in theory, and one of the return spots could also be an outlet to get an explosive player like Miles Shuler some more touches.

All in all, the kicking game remained a concern, but Rutgers played well with their return and coverage units, and were able to conjure up turnovers by blocking kicks and field goals. After watching Rutgers neglect special teams for years and years, they continued to be a net asset in 2011.

Assistant coaches

Frank Cignetti - this was pretty much night and day from 2010 and the unending nightmare of Kirk Ciarrocca's tenure. Is Cignetti a perfect play caller? Of course not, but he is a genuine, qualified DI offensive coordinator, who stemmed the bleeding and made Rutgers relevant again. Now the challenge will to build on this year, and bring to light a truly dynamic attack next season. More of his personnel will be in place, with the players having another year to learn his scheme, but Cigs will have to make everything work absent the performance of Mohamed Sanu. It's on Cignetti's shoulders to develop one of Gary Nova or Chas Dodd into a credible starter. Let's hope a suitor with deep pockets doesn't come calling, or that Cignetti is tired of moving around for a while.

P.J. Fleck - talk about feast or famine. Mohamed Sanu was finally healthy, and put together an All-American performance. Quron Pratt and Tim Wright were generally solid in their limited opportunities. Fleck loses some points though for the inconsistent performances by Mark Harrison or Brandon Coleman. Both can run and jump with the best of them, but if they only caught a few more passes between them, well.... Coleman did seem to put it together later on in the season, when Harrison missed time battling an injury. Fleck's recruiting prowess in Florida was also someone limited with RU cleaning up in a banner year in New Jersey, so he's spent more time in NJ and the MD/DC area. It will be interesting to see if any Big Ten rumors start up again.

Chris Hewitt - 2011 did not feature the greatest performance by the main tailbacks, and this unit has been a trouble spot for a while, albeit owing plenty to the continuing issues in run blocking. Jawan Jamison and Jeremy Deering had their moments, but were never consistent threats; nor was all-everything recruit Savon Huggins before his injury. The fullbacks looked good though, with Michael Burton a top breakout threat for 2012 with increased playing time.

Brian Angelichio - The tight ends were better, but still not exactly what you would expect out of a Cignetti offense. Perhaps with no Sanu next year, more of his intermediate routes go to D.C. Jefferson and Paul Carrezola. Angelichio is a very important recruiter in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Kyle Flood - okay, so now we know - the bulk of the pass protection issues were the fault of Ciarrocca and his non-sensical scheme. The beleaguered Flood is not completely incompetent, but his inability to conjure up a running game is starting to wear very thin. Playing more Burton instead of Martinek next season will help, as will the running backs gaining experience, but at best Flood enters a do or die season in 2012. The constant personnel reshuffling wore thin this season, and now multiple seniors are graduating. Another season of meh pass protection and bad run blocking won't cut it. Schiano probably gives Flood one more chance, if only for a lack of realistic alternatives. What are you going to do, hire Bill Kinney (who splits duties with Dick Anderson) from Penn State as a replacement? No, it's not a rumor, unless message board wish lists are a valid source.

Phil Galiano - the defensive line performance was somewhat of a mixed bag. The defensive tackles played very well. Scott Vallone couldn't pile up stats at nose tackle, but drew double teams all season, freeing Justin Francis for a huge year. Ken Kirksey and Isaac Holmes held their own as solid depth. Rutgers needs more big plays from its edge rushers though. Manny Abreu was solid, but never lived up to his explosive 2010 at linebacker. You kind of want to see some more recruiting-wise from South Jersey too, especially considering some of the big '13 names on the horizon. It's hard to say if Randy Melvin was really the problem last year instead of it just being personnel. Man, Gary Emanuel sure was awesome though.

Bob Fraser - He was a very good linebackers coach for years. Fraser is still the defensive coordinator in name, but his role isn't exactly clear outside of the program with Greg Schiano calling plays.

Robb Smith - The linebackers were great, and that was a unit that had a lot of question marks after so many players moved to the DL. The special teams were generally solid as indicated above. Looks like a smooth transition from Bob Fraser. Give a solid assist to GA Tem Lukabu with the linebackers.

Jeff Hafley - Schiano was moonlighting here as well, but the defensive backs quickly put any lingering concerns from Hafley's tenure at Pitt aside. With more pressure up front, the secondary returned to form. (That was the big problem in 2010 more than anything to do with Ed Pinkham.) More importantly, he's aptly filled Joe Susan's role as the staff's primary New Jersey recruiter, which was very important with another good in-state class. He still has to close big though.

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