Rutgers football spring practice: final offense grades

Having had slightly over a week now since the conclusion of RU's spring practice, how is everybody feeling about things? It seemed like the media was a little more candid this spring than in years past, which somewhat tapers the natural tendency of Rutgers fans to read a million different things into any available sliver of information, but it's still around to some extent. Having only watched the spring game (and explicitly NOT any of the practices), and having read everything published over the past two months, here's one overall assessment of the team at the moment that may or may not reflect reality.

Quarterbacks: Sophomore Chas Dodd is the odds-on favorite to start, and he displayed accuracy and solid arm strength during the spring game. The problem here is two-fold though. Even in the best case scenarios Rutgers is likely to be thin depth-wise under center, with incoming freshmen Gary Nova and Mike Bimonte having a good chance of coming in right away and competing for the backup job. Dodd is relatively impressive for a rising sophomore, but ideally he would still be biding his time and gaining more seasoning. Rutgers can win with Dodd. They especially can win if he's able to hand off the ball to a productive running game, and remain content to pick apart opposing secondaries with the play action game. Does that mean he is capable of more performances like last year's UConn game, taking the team on his back and willing them to victory? Time will tell, but that is an awful lot to task of even the best underclassmen. Grade: C

Running Backs: Rutgers saw a bit of the return to the dreaded post-Ray Rice era trademark of having a running back by committee this spring, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Reports had returnees De'Antwan Williams, Jeremy Deering, and Jawan Jamison all flashing at times, battling bouts of inconsistency at others. Starting tailback Joe Martinek is sliding over into a supposed fullback role that has not yet been entirely fleshed out; he is certainly capable of being an effective pass-catching weapon out of the backfield, which new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was seemingly showcasing in the spring game with promising sophomore Marcus Thompson. In fact, of the guys currently on the roster, Thompson is one of the few who surprisingly didn't generate much ink in the spring. Every fan thinks he's going to be a monster on the field if he can just find a position, then he turns in a very impressive spring game performance on the second string. Incoming freshman Savon (say it with me now - "Say-VONNNNN," with an Oprah-style inflection) Huggins is expected to dominate team backfield touches this fall, with a sprinkling of Deering as a versatile, change-of-pace home run threat. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers: With veterans like Mohamed Sanu and Tim Wright seeing limit contact, redshirt freshman Brandon Coleman seized the opportunity to make Rutgers coach Greg Schiano publicly second-guess not playing Coleman last fall. That raises the interesting question of how probable would it be for a freshman to usurp any established players in the lineup this fall; even ones who could have NFL futures like Sanu and the eternally tantalizing Mark Harrison. The coaching staff moved players like Deering and Jawaun Wynn to other positions to clear up the logjam a little bit, but it still remains an open question as to how the heck the coaching staff will find enough catches for everybody with the transition away from the spread offense. Throw reserves like J.T. Tartacoff and Quron Pratt into the mix, along with incoming freshmen like Miles Shuler and Tejay Johnson, and Rutgers returns enough depth here to rival any team in the country. It may make for a difficult juggling act this season, but that is undoubtedly one good problem to have. Grade: A-

Tight Ends: The tight end position will be an integral part of any transition back to a pro-style offense. At Pittsburgh Frank Cignetti used a receiver-hybrid type in Dorin Dickerson to help stretch the field, and had Nate Byham to block and stay in as Bill Stull's safety need. Those roles should be a natural fit with D.C. Jefferson and Paul Carrezola respectively, with Carrezola jumping ahead at the moment, finally poised to play meaningful minutes after a few aborted false starts. Still, this group did not receive as much ink as many would have liked though, with Jefferson and Malcolm Bush still needing to emerge. Jefferson is, purely and simply, a lottery ticket. If the light comes on for him at some point there's no telling how could the offense could end up being. Grade: C+

Offensive Line: It was hard to determine how much of this group's poor play was attributable to schematic woes, but Rutgers ended up surrendering more sacks last season than any other FBS squad. Come the spring, line coach Kyle Flood responds by moving last year's line stalwart left tackle Desmond Stapleton to RT away from protecting Chas Dodd's blind side. It should be noted however that there is recent precedent for such a move. Jeremy Zuttah played RT despite easily having the athleticism for the left side, mainly because RU had a lock down pass protector opposite him in Pedro Sosa. Presumably Flood is looking to recreate his success with Sosa/Zuttah by installing a pair of athletic book ends to keep Dodd's jersey considerably cleaner this fall in Stapes and Andre Civil. Guard looks solid enough with Desmond Wynn and Antwan Lowery returning, and Betim Bujari in reserve. Any remaining anxiety is at center, where David Osei showed considerable progress during the spring, but JUCO transfer Dallas Hendrikson tore his ACL and is out for the year. They should have enough to field a solid two-deep, but any string of injuries will mean trouble. These guys reportedly looked decent in practice and weren't horrible in the spring game, actually resembling a genuine FBS for the most part. They cannot be unspeakably bad again, can they? Grade: C

Stay tuned for the second half of this review later in the week.

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