Kyle Flood's first practice session as a head coach is less than hours away, which also will whet the appetite of Rutgers fans eager for one last taste of football before the dregs of the offseason summer truly kick in. Flood and the coaching staff remain relative unknowns, so how the next few weeks play out are sure to be overanalyzed to the nth degree as harbingers of things to come. We have seen the press conferences, and now question number one in that respect is how loose information will be coming out of practices. Coach Schiano seemed to lighten up a bit last season after years of tight secrecy. Will Kyle Flood follow in Greg's footsteps, or be content to leave Doug Marrone as the premier paranoiac in the Big East conference?
The speculation is inevitable after a near-complete overhaul. How will offensive coordinator Dave Brock adapt to having actual speed at the skill positions, which was not really present at Boston College? (The programs could not be more polar opposites in terms of personnel.) Will DC Robb Smith maintain Schiano's blitz-heavy defense? What about all of these assistants that, up until now, were hitherto-unknown to Rutgers faithful? There are two holdovers from the GS era, and Flood and Smith surely will have some input on the OL and special teams respectively, but even those groups will have to evolve somewhat. After setting the tone with the staff, the focus will turn to the players obviously, with spring a prime opportunity for younger upperclassmen to start seeing significant repetitions on the field, while at the same time earning respect in the locker room.
There is no hard and set rule. Mohamed Sanu dominated his first spring practice and carried that momentum over for the following three years. Brandon Coleman was a revelation last spring, only to battle fits of inconsistency until late in 2011. What is evident is that the Rutgers roster is loaded to the hilt with raw athletes that, on paper, should possess all of the tangible, physical skill necessary to compete for a Big East championship. The heralded class of 2009 started to live up to their reputation beyond just Sanu last year, and now that class is the heart of the team. They will be pushed further by last year's recruits, many of whom will have their first genuine opportunities to see the field after completing redshirts. Careers are made in the dog days of fall camp, but the road to that point starts in earnest today.
Rutgers's ultimate fate in 2012 - whether it continues to tread water as a middle-of-the-road program, or can take the next step in a depleted conference, mostly depends on the budding competition under center. Chas Dodd has the edge in experience, and is coming off a promising Pinstripe Bowl performance. It will not be easy fending off Gary Nova however; not to set expectations too high for Nova, but he probably has to be considered the slight favorite for he job, all other things being equal. There remain other question marks of varying degrees - where will the Knights find a running game, who emerges as a possession WR, and will any of the tight ends emerge from the pack - but the difference between a bid to the Champs Bowl and the BCS will surely come down to the guy flinging the rock. The one thing that can be said with confidence at least is that for the first time in quite a while, Rutgers has some level of depth here beyond a pure state of emergency.
Any questions on defense are less so personnel than scheme. Rutgers returns most of its key contributors from 2011, although Justin Francis is a considerable loss, and David Rowe was very effective at safety. Everyone knows the linebackers and secondary will be good. Even if he's keeping a spot warm for Khaseem Greene, good luck getting Kevin Snyder off the field after the next few weeks. Logan Ryan, of course, is a supernova about to explode to make up for the media overlooking his stellar play down the stretch last year. Most exciting at all is watching some of the younger linemen up front come into their own. Mike Larrow, Jamil Merrell, Ken Kirksey. The downside to high expectations is that by definition they are difficult to meet, but wow, if there is ever a time for irrational exuberance it is now. Greg Schiano may have left, but at least he left the cupboard fully stocked in the process.
Things have changed. There will be new coaches, new players, new uniforms, and new teams on the schedule. Flood would like nothing more than to surpass Schiano's penchant for underachieving year-in and year-out. At the same time, his very hire itself was premised on the notion that little would change. Kyle is not here to rock the boat, but might possibly veer a bit closer to true north with the end of the getting the program back on course. That being said, all of the above is guesswork until the pads come on, leading to a series of inferences subsequent to the spring scrimmages. Will Kyle Flood maintain and enhance Rutgers? That certainly is the $100 million dollar question on everyone's minds. Today, we will start to get the very first semblances and inklings of an answer.