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2008 Season Preview: Tight Ends

Projected 2008 depth chart

Kevin Brock (RS-SR 6'5, 255 lbs), Craig McGovern (RS-SR 6'3, 255 lbs), Shamar Graves (RS-SO 6'3, 230 lbs)

Today, we'll go back to the offensive side of the ball. Between James Jenkins, Marco Battaglia, L.J. Smith, and Clark Harris, Rutgers has produced a fair number of tight ends in recent memory. In the early part of Schiano's tenure, the prominence of Clark Harris and Sam Johnson in the offense was based more out of necessity than any other factor. Arena leaguer Ryan Hart will never be confused with Jeff George. Not only did he lack the arm strength to throw downfield to Shawn Tucker or Marcus Daniels; but both of those split ends missed many games in their tantalizing careers. Through a combination of these factors, Hart learned to depend on tight ends Clark Harris and Sam Johnson, along with fullback Brian Leonard and wide receiver Tres Moses.

Johnson, an exemplary blocker, might have very well had a chance to continue his career in the NFL if he had not suffered a series of concussions in college. Harris was his polar opposite; a former high school WR that bulked up but still functioned as more of a Joe Jurevicius-type role in the offense. Beset by injuries leading up to the draft, poor workouts, a disappointing senior season, and rumored attitude issues, Harris has to this point failed to latch on to a NFL team after sliding all the way to the seventh round of the 2007 draft before being selected by the Green Bay Packers.

One of the reasons that Harris (and Leonard) saw his role decrease was the ascension of Mike Teel in 2006, much more of a classic dropback quarterback than the precision-based Hart. With a relative cannon under center, the primary targets of the offense the past two seasons have primarily been receivers, often Kenny Britt on an unfettered Go route. Last year, Rutgers looked very much the part of a traditional, pro-style vertical passing offense. Leonard and Harris were still valuable safety nets for Teel in 2006, and their presence was sorely missed last season.

Kevin Brock, like Harris a former high school wide receiver, originally walked on to the Rutgers football team rather than receiving a scholarship. He did not see much time early in 2007, as redshirt freshman Shamar Graves was used as the primary receiving TE, and blocking specialist Chris Rudanovic saw the majority of snaps. With the ability to throw downfield to a receiver on any given play, Teel did not have much use for check-downs. As Shamar Graves showed his inexperience in September, and Teel battled a significant thumb injury, Brock finally began to emerge in the offense during conference play in 2007.

Backing up Brock may very well be the long-forgotten Craig McGovern. A former top recruit and Michigan State transfer, McGovern is one of many transfers in the Schiano era that has failed to live up to his billing. However, he reportedly looked sharp in spring practice. With the graduation of Rudanovic, McGovern has a chance to finally see significant playing time in 2008. There have been inconclusive reports about whether McGovern will be able to apply for another season of eligibility in 2009 if Greg Schiano is willing to bring him back for another year.

Shamar Graves, another recruit who came to Rutgers with significant press clippings, saw playing time as true freshman at wide receiver in 2006. He was one of many injuries at that position that season. Fortunately, it occurred early enough that he was able to apply for a medical redshirt. He bulked up during the 2007 offseason, and started off the year as the starting TE. He quickly lost his starting job. Entering 2008, Graves still retains three years of eligibility to reach his considerable promise. Rutgers uses a great deal of two-TE sets, which will give Graves ample opportunity to see the field. He will also be used out of the backfield in a H-Back role at times. Offensive lineman Howard Barbieri will also be called upon at times to block in multiple-TE sets.

Redshirt freshman Fabian Ruiz is, like Brock and Graves, a receiving specialist. Rutgers struck out on their primary tight end targets last year, meaning that Virginia athlete Morgan Carter is a possibility to end up at the position. It is unlikely that he will play in 2008 though, as the rail-thin Carter will need to put in considerable effort in the weight room. Former quarterback Tom Lang is also currently listed at the position, but he is not expected to be a significant factor going forward. Depth at the position is thin enough that incoming recruits Malcolm Bush and Paul Carrezola will have ample opportunities for early playing time next season.

There is the potential for a respectable season out of Brock, and the youngsters still have a fair amount of potential. Overall though, this unit has to be considered decisively in the middle of the pack. Depth is rather lacking, and there isn't a real classic, two-way threat tight end on the roster. The only one we've even had in recent memory was Sam Johnson, and the coaching staff gave more playing time to Harris. The main difference between the tight ends and the other two units that I've previewed is that the OL and LB corps both have the potential to break out in big ways if the chips fall our way. Tight end won't be a weakness this year, but it's hard to imagine an impact player coming out of this group.