One final word on the alleged leaks posted on Scarlet Nation: while there of course is no way of determining their authenticity, they did appear very credible. Especially with Tom Luicci hinting at another assistant leaving. If this all was the result of an elaborate hoax, it was at least planned out well. Two stories that seem to reoccur on a continual basis every year under Greg Schiano are (A) assistant coach turnover, and (B) positional changes on defense in an effort to team speed. Because this is Rutgers we're talking about here, there will be no comment at this time on matters openly discussed elsewhere. That being said, any similarities in the below discussion to the leaks is purely coincidental and unavoidable.
What was notable about the public reaction to the leaks was that there seemed to be a prevailing sentiment of disappointment that Mohamed Sanu would not be moving from receiver back to safety. While the suggestion is not as unintuitive as the oft-repeated refrain that Joe Martinek should play fullback, it is difficult to understand how this concept became so popular in a short period of time. Can anyone recall if Sanu has ever expressed a preference for playing one or the other? There is no indication at all that this move is truly under consideration, but in the meantime let's try to work this out in an effort to fill the void of actual on-field discussion in the vacuum before practices and drills resume in a few weeks.
The reasoning goes that wide receiver has shifted from a weakness to a strength on the Rutgers football roster; as is apt to happen a year after throwing a bunch of inexperienced players into the fire. Sanu has been a productive starter. Mark Harrison displayed the most raw athletic potential of any offensive player last year not named D.C. Jefferson, and was finally starting to realize that promise as one of the long bright spots in the second half of last season. Jeremy Deering was productive for a freshman, and will be in search of more reps assuming new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti de-emphasizes the Wildcat.
Arguably, Rutgers even has a glut of talent at the position now. The team recruited a lot of receivers over the past few years. That happened as part of Kirk Ciarrocca's misguided efforts at implementing the spread, but also owed to a burgeoning talent boom at the high school level in New Jersey. Behind the returning top three there's also Tim Wright, who may have started if not for being felled by a training camp injury. Keith Stroud has developed into a dependable possession receiver. Quron Pratt similarly was a spring standout that fell behind early and was somewhat lost in the shuffle of a glut of talented underclassmen.
Mason Robinson didn't see many snaps on offense last year, but did have several standout punt returns. Another freshman in J.T. Tartacoff looks like an ideal slot receiver. Aaron Hayward still has plenty of time to develop. The freshmen drawing redshirt duty last year, Brandon Coleman and Jawaun Wynn, were arguably the two most athletic receivers in the 2010 class, even ahead of Deering. Two more top prospects are coming in this fall in speedsters Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson. Clearly something has to give position-wise, because Rutgers has far too many warm bodies at receiver. If the alternative is languishing and atrophying in want of practice reps and playing time, then it makes sense to move a few players around with an eye on filling other team depth needs.
Everyone agrees for the most part there. This quarrel is about which players should move and to where. The case for moving Mohamed Sanu as opposed to other players seems to be that he wore down last year through overuse. As polished as Sanu looked as a true freshman, he was even more impressive playing safety through most of spring practice (as an early enrollee) in 2009 (only switching right before the spring game due to depth concerns). The depth chart at defensive back isn't quite as overloaded as receiver, but Rutgers has recruited well there it recent years and should at least get a look in practice at where all the underclassmen are at before making any rash decisions. Especially since the alternative involves setting back Sanu's development to some extent were he to transition back to defense.
Mark Harrison may end up the better player, but Mohamed should still play an important role in the offense this fall. Is there any precedent for a college football program moving one of its best playmakers on offense to the other side of the ball? Shouldn't we at least see what he's capable of during the spring when healthy? Most importantly, there isn't quite anyone else on the roster who matches his unique skill set and versatility. Deering is a more explosive runner out of the wildcat, but Sanu's arm is good enough that he could play quarterback in a spread option offense. While he is a very impressive athlete, that doesn't necessarily manifested into the big plays that we saw from Harrison and Deering last year, and that a healthy Wright would ideally match.
For many this is precisely the reason why Sanu should play defense; on the contrary, Sanu's role in the offense has been more that of a possession receiver utilized for securing first downs. It may not seem that impressive on the surface, but how many times over the past few years has the Rutgers offense stalled out due to not putting enough emphasis on moving the chains? Sanu is a proven commodity when it comes to running those routes, and he has the frame to take the pounding that comes with going after those last few tough yards between a conversion and fourth down. Rutgers has other experienced deep threats. A couple backups showed some promise last year, but none to the extent where they could take over at a moment's notice.
Put it this way: Harrison has the better measurables, and is going to be very scary when he puts it all together. If by chance he missed time though, Rutgers could still produce a decent passing attack with Deering and/or Wright substituting as reasonable facsimiles. Mohamed Sanu on the other hand, is still the offense's most irreplaceable player until proven otherwise, which is a critical distinction. Greg Schiano, Frank Cignetti, WR coach P.J. Fleck, and any other assistants who conceivably would have say over where Sanu plays would be wise not to tinker with what is not broken and cull a budding team strength in the process.