2012 Rutgers football season preview: tight ends

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 12: Michael Burton #46 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights is congratulated by his teammate Paul Carrezola #89 for his touchdown in the second quarter against the Army Black Knights at Yankee Stadium on November 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Rutgers has been seemingly searching for answers at the tight end position for years. There was Kevin Brock bouncing in and out of the lineup for a while, and Shamar Graves mysteriously not receiving a fifth season, and things somehow have only gotten stranger and more inconsistent from there. We've all played Tecmo Bowl, it's not brain surgery. If you're running a pro-style offense, then a certain number of times per game, your tight end will run an inside 7 yard curl as the third read, the QB checks down, and boom, third and short. That's how it's supposed to work in theory, but Rutgers was still transitioning back from the spread last year. It sure didn't help that the afore-mentioned scheme has wreaked havoc on the depth chart, beyond a string of remarkable bad luck.

Entering 2012, it appears that more of the same is on the table. Starter D.C. Jefferson showed considerable maturity on the field last fall, but could hardly count on getting many looks from under center with Mohamed Sanu unmatched as a possession WR. It was more peaks and valleys for him, and backup Paul Carrezola. With Jefferson missing time in the spring with injuries, and working his way back, Carrezola has the edge for the top job at the moment. Both should play often, both in single and two tight end sets, rendering the ultimate competition to be the official starter somewhat moot. Sanu is gone, and Rutgers has more burners than possession guys left in its WR corps. By necessity, and possibly by merit as well, it would be nigh-impossible not to see some increase in production here.

What remains worrisome is that while there have been some improvements, this position remains far from settled. Worse still, there isn't much in the way of depth. Redshirt freshman Tyler Kroft looks promising as a likely starter in 2014, but his emergence this year meant that rising junior Malcolm Bush decided to transfer. That was unfortunate, as Rutgers still badly needed additional depth this year and beyond. The raw Bush still had untapped potential, and the light sometimes goes on as a senior, but what are you going to do. That's too bad, but the really bad part about it is that Rutgers not only didn't sign any TEs in 2010 (meaning there are likely to be issues if one of the top three misses extended time), but lost their 2012 commit at the eleventh hour after Greg Schiano left (to a dying program in BC no less, which was like a double stab in the gut.) Next year is going to be challenging, with one or both true freshman thrown into the mix right away, and that will be the case as well the following year without Carrezola.

This could work, but depth is problematic here to the point that it's sort of like Pitt's roster, for example. There's talent, but it's hanging on by a shoe string without any margin for error. One bad break and they're in considerable trouble. If injuries were to pop up, Rutgers could always play more multi-receiver sets, or use more Michael Burton at fullback. They could put in an extra lineman in a blocking or goal line package, or even a defender like some teams do. Still, it would have been reassuring if the staff would have found at least one position change or transfer here to short up the depth on paper. Do we really need a parade of top-ranked defensive linemen? Oh, probably so, but how does a program end up to the point where they are tripping over quality receivers and defensive tackles of all spots, but with lingering depth issues here? It makes little sense; not that much of anything related to the ill-fated spread offense of 2009 and 2010 ever did.

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