Projected depth chart:
QB: Mike Teel (RS-SR 6'4 220 lbs), Jabulani Lovelace (RS-JR 6-2, 215 lbs), Chris Paul-Etienne (RS-SO 6-3, 190 lbs)
Popular opinion is not very kind to Mike Teel. Between R-rated Facebook messages in 2006, or criticism of his play last season, one could forget that he ranked #17 in I-A pass efficiency last season, throwing for over 3000 yards, and 20 TDs against 13 INTs. He did struggle at times, but most of the criticism of Teel that I read neglects to mention the serious thumb injury that he suffered against Norfolk State last year. Greg Schiano foolishly used the justification that he does not rest starters before halftime, and we all paid the price, as Teel hurt his thumb in the waning minutes of the second quarter. The injury hurt Teel's accuracy all season, culminating in being barely able to play in games against Army and Pittsburgh late in the year. There's also some lingering criticism from his first two seasons, where he was extremely green, and was seen as unfairly usurping Ryan Hart's starting job in 2005.
There's another factor that I think really skews everyone's evaluation of Teel. Rutgers runs a pro-style offense that likes to air out the ball downfield. They're not going to dink and dunk as they did in the Ryan Hart era. It may look ugly when it's slumping, but eventually, some of those deep passes connect for huge chunks of yardage. Just like with Eli Manning, Teel does not deliberately go about throwing a bomb to Kenny Britt on every play. They've both unfairly earned a "gunslinger" rep, even though the calls usually come from upstairs, and Teel has to take what looks to be his best read.
Teel doesn't have Ray Rice to lure safeties into the box as often, but it may not matter. Mason Robinson and Kordell Young aren't chopped liver in that department. Opponents will use more safeties in coverage at times, but that will open up the short and intermediate range game that Rutgers got away from last season when they were inexperienced at Tight End and Fullback. Reports from camp have been uniformly positive on Teel and the entire passing game. I've been cautious in other parts of the preview, but this is an area where Rutgers fans need to pick up their glass of kool aid and chug. It's delicious.
The likely backup quarterback is Jabu Lovelace. He has a fair amount of athleticism, is academically one of the best students on the team, is well-liked in the locker room, and has a very strong arm. Unfortunately, that's where the praise ends. Lovelace is fine for a few snaps a game to give Teel a breather, and to come in and scramble for yardage. What's telling however, is that even with a starting quarterback that could barely play during some weeks, Schiano and McNulty displayed such little confidence in Lovelace that they only had him attempt 23 passes during the season; and he connected on less than a third of those. Lovelace is one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks I've ever seen, and his less than stellar play in the spring game did nothing to disconfirm that notion. Unfortunately, Lovelace is the most likely candidate to be #2 on the depth chart this year.
Now firmly entrenched in the #3 spot, and fighting Lovelace for reps is Chris Paul-Etienne. CPE shares a similar skillset to Lovelace, but has an even stronger arm. The upside is that he hasn't had the opportunity to show that he can't accurately throw a football yet. Unless Rutgers wants to go with an inexperienced starter in 2009, they're going to have to figure out what exactly CPE can do this year.
Rutgers and its fans once had high hopes for junior quarterback Dominic Natale, but they have faded with each subsequent report from camp. A top NJ recruit from the class of 2005 (the same as Jabu's), Natale originally spurned his home state university to play for John L. Smith at Michigan State. He transferred after a year, but the hype was deflated in the spring of 2007 when Natale suffered a serious arm injury. Natale returned to outplay Lovelace and CPE in the 2008 Spring Game, but would soon fall behind the depth chart again. Any hope for Natale to offer a serious challenge to the starting job and be a respectable bridge from Teel to D.C. Jefferson and Tom Savage now seems all but lost. Natale offers differing skillset from Teel and the other quarterbacks. He does not have the speed of Lovelace or CPE, but he is decent scrambler and far more mobile than Teel. From reports, he is the most accurate passer on the team. He has the weakest arm of any scholarship quarterback, but it is respectable and far from Ryan Hart territory.
All but certain to redshirt in 2008 are incoming freshmen Steve Shimko and D.C. Jefferson. Shimko was seen as a major project coming out of high school. He has good size and a decent arm, but he is likely a poor man's Teel at best, and was only brought in as insurance during the recruitment of Jefferson.
Jefferson at one point decommitted to LSU last season, but later returned to the fold. Rumors of academic problems also proved to be unfounded. If CPE has a Howitzer, Jefferson's arm can be described as 9+ on the Jeff George/Kyle Boller scale. Rutgers beatwriters have suggested, only half in jest, that he may be able to replicate Boller's task of throwing the ball into the opposite end zone while kneeling at the 20-yard line. Jefferson's arm and huge frame have drawn comparisons to former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Such comparisons are extremely premature at best, as Jefferson is one of the rawer prospects out there, albeit one with absolutely enormous (figuratively and literally) potential. He will likely need multiple years on the bench before he's ready to contribute. At that point, hopefully Tommy Savage will have enrolled, and we will have a fun battle on our hands.
Don't believe the anti-hype. Teel has complete command of the offense, a brilliant (and similarly, far underrated) receiver in Kenny Britt that could make Dave Brown (ughhhhhh) look good, and is poised for a huge season. 3500+ passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and hearing his named called on the second day of next year's NFL Draft. There is no credible backup for Teel, which will spell trouble if he misses any significant amount of time. If he's good to go, the passing attack will be one of the major strengths of the team, and one of the better units in the country in that regard.