Just imagine the following, if you will, at some point in the near future.
David Osei lines up against an opposing nose guard. Tom Savage is under center, barking out orders, reading the defense has preparing for an all-out blitz, motioning for split end Aaron Hayward to motion out left. "Hike, hike", Osei snaps the ball to Savage, who takes a five step drop. He fakes a handoff to De'Antwan Williams, who wheels out to the sidelines. Jamal Wilson pancakes a would-be rusher to the ground coming from Savage's blindside. Robert Joseph picks up another incoming blitzer that shot between the gap between the right guard and right tackle. As Savage goes through his progressions, he sees an open Paul Carrezola in the middle of the field, well past the first down marker. Savage is about to release, when, all in the span of a millisecond, he spies a linebacker playing a bit off Carrezola, primed to jump the route.
Just when he's about to throw the ball away, Savage spots something interesting out of the corner of his periphery. There's Mark Harrison, streaking down the right sidelines. He only has a half step on the cornerback, but a four-inch height advantage. Savage pump fakes to Carrezola. The safety help deep bites, if only for a moment, hesitating for justttt enough. His arm propels forward vertically, rifling a tight spiral 60 yards down the sidelines. Harrison has his man beat, but will he get to the ball in time? Will he haul the pass in? It's right over Mark's shoulder, and YES! Harrison secures the catch, dives toward the endzone with a defender draped across his back. Rutgers has just secured its first ever conference title with a come from behind, fourth quarter victory against the the heavily favored, top five West Virginia Mountaineers.
For the fans, that scenario I just described above is the dream of every signing day. Undoubtedly, things never quite work out exactly how you may have planned.
Case in point, it's no secret that the class of 2009 had several high-profile defections. Rutgers got off to a 1-5 start, Penn State was undefeated, and Notre Dame still has the appeal of Notre Dame. We didn't start cheering for Rutgers because we expected to be USC East every year. If you use ND and PSU as a basis of comparison, and insist that Rutgers keeps every single player home, you are probably never going to be satisfied.
That's not the proper way to evaluate this class. '09 was inarguably, on paper, the best recruiting class that Greg Schiano has ever signed at Rutgers. We can only worry about Rutgers. What's important is that Rutgers continued to make progress, filled most of its needs in this signing class, and most importantly, landed most of the players that the coaching staff targeted.
Over the past few months, I've talked a fair amount about the importance of recruiting high-character, high-quality student athletes to Rutgers. There's an important distinction to draw here though. There's recruiting, and then there's Recruiting; small "r", and big "R". Recruiting, the endless swell of drama, hype, and whathaveyou, it's honestly not that important. This is not a generic anti-recruiting rant, because I acknowledge its correlation with on-field success, while acknowledging its limitations. If you look at the various lists of the "top" players in New Jersey, Rutgers did not pursue all of them. Not even close. Sometimes, coaches will strongly disagree on their evaluations. UConn and Cincinnati have won their share of games recently, and neither have really gotten many of the top high-school stars. However, if they land the targets that their coaching staff wanted, that's a victory.
I just watched a video of Coach Schiano's presser, and it was interesting enough in the sense of clearing up a few of the lingering questions about the class.
From the moment he steps foot on campus in May, Tom Savage will be under a level of scrutiny that no Scarlet Knight has faced since possibly Paul Robeson. By committing early (denoting credibility), and helping to keep this year's class together, Savage has already been a boon to Rutgers football before ever stepping foot on the field. Savage is unavoidably the face of Rutgers football going forward. As much as Rutgers football has done lately, every other member of the Class of 2009 is primarily here for one reason: to play football with Tom Savage. He's their de-facto leader going forward, from day one.
I like the incoming backfield class of De'Antwan "Rocket" Williams and Robert Joseph. Williams, as a small back with a ton of power, obviously brings to mind one Ray Rice. He may be a bit shorter than Rice, with somewhat more top-end speed, so the better comparison may be Maurice Jones-Drew. The one concern with Williams is that he still needs a qualifying score on the SAT. However, I believe that by backing off several options recently, the Rutgers staff has indirectly confirmed that Williams will more than likely make it to campus.
More praise is in order when talking about the receiving tandem of Aaron Hayward and Mark Harrison. Hayward is the round peg that the coaching staff may have been trying to force Tiquan Underwood into over the past few years. The best case scenario is that he's a dependable receiver; a bigger, faster version of Tres Moses. Harrison is quite a curious case. He's 6'3, 230 lbs with reported 4.4 speed. Ok you might think, we've had those guys before, there are workout warriors who don't get it done on the field. Well, I can't say much about the context, but Harrison put up monster numbers in 2008 - 61 catches, 1,673 yards, and 17 touchdowns, drawing comparisons to Terrell Owens in the process. Sounds impressive, right? There is a catch though. Rutgers was the only BCS conference school to offer Harrison, which has set off a fire storm of fan speculation. He's a risk, but if he works out, Harrison could end up being one of the absolute keys to the class. Along with Steve Beauharnais and Mohamed Sanu, he's one of several players with the "athletic freak" label attached to them. Harrison and Beauharnais have not garnered much publicity, but theoretically could end up being the stalwarts of the class.
If you would have asked the one position where Rutgers absolutely, 100% needed to take care of this year, it was at tight end. The Knights are incredibly thin going into next year, largely owing to losing Jesse Cisco and Jeff Minemyer due to injury. Now, they can shuffle the roster around a bit, and maybe convert a lineman or defender or two, but this was clearly a spot where we needed an instant impact player after striking out on our top targets last year. Paul Carrezola could fill that role. What we'll need is a sound blocker, who can make catches when necessary, in the Sam Johnson mold. Malcolm Bush probably has more upside than Carrezola, but is more of a long term project.
If there was one sore spot in this year's recruiting class, it would be with depth along the offensive line, and even Schiano seemed to concede that today. Between decommitments, and the team's poor start and other factors, Rutgers ended up striking out with a lot of its fall targets. Jamal Wilson was a good get I think. Osei is more of a question mark. He has the athleticism for zone blocking (coming from a wrestler background), and Coach Flood liked him enough to jump in with an offer as soon as Brazinski waivered. It would not surprise me if one of the current DT commits ended up shifting to the offensive line in time.
Moving over to the defensive line, I see Jamil Merrell filling that Orr/Westerman/Freeny weakside speed rusher role. Andre Civil would have probably been a defensive tackle for us in the past, but in this year's class, he'll have the opportunity to be a bullrushing left end. I don't really know what to make of Junior Solice. He flew under the radar, and was apparently pegged for linebacker before Ka'Lial Glaud came on board this morning.
Probably the most interesting part of the presser was when Greg Schiano outlined his mentality about the defensive tackle position. Rutgers goes small not because it wants to; because it has to. For the most part, the big guys haven't been pulling their weight in the past, and just plain weren't as good as Foster, Tverdov, and Meekins. This is a position where it can take some time to develop. Based on some reports about Scott Vallone last year, I expected (and still do) him to make an immediate impact. In general though, this is a position (along with quarterback) that's inevitably prone to busts. Schiano specifically singled out Isaac Holmes as a potential run-stuffing nose tackle, and his comments seemed to hint that Michael Larrow's likely future was alongside him at defensive tackle. Lowery's interesting. From what I could gather about his play at the Under Armour all-star game, he shows flashes of big-time athleticism, but is still fairly raw, and will need to work on his conditioning with Jay Butler. In a perfect world, he's a pass-rushing, 3-technique "under" tackle, like Damione Lewis who Schiano coached at Miami. The elephant in the room here is that some have projected Holmes to the offensive line (although Schiano said he saw him at NT), and Schiano conspicuously did not specify where exactly Lowery was going to be slotted. Miami actually wanted him at guard, so that's something to look out for in the future.
With the addition of Ka'Lial Glaud today, Rutgers did a nice job of salvaging a linebacking class that had been ravaged by the team's rough start. The staff focused on other targets over the summer, which left Glaud and Ryan Donohue (who landed at Maryland) feeling unappreciated. The thing you have to like about Glaud, Beauharnais, and Jamal Merrell is that all of them can run. If there's a weakness in this group, and this is somewhat nitpicky, is that I don't know if there's a run-stuffer ala Ryan D'Imperio in there. Beauharnais would be the closest. Solice could fill that role, but I don't know if he's fast enough to play LB for Rutgers. Am I going to whine and moan about Eric Legrand being moved to defensive end until the end of time? Yes, yes I am.
What a stellar defensive back class. Until we finished so well on the defensive line, there was little debate that the DBs were the crown jewel for Rutgers this year. With Logan Ryan, we may finally (barring questions over Mason Robinson's future) get the blue chip cover corner that has evaded Rutgers for years. Mohamed Sanu, if you saw him playing quarterback in last year's Governor Bowl, he's a gem, and one of the five most important players in this class along with Ryan. He's fast enough for safety, big enough for linebacker, and could theoretically even land at receiver. With Duron Harmon, I think Rutgers is finally getting the center fielding free safety that we've been missing since Ronnie Girault graduated. There's some debate over whether Abdul Smith will end up at corner or safety, but that's a good problem to have. With Abdul Smith, if they were willing to take a flier on him that late (the same goes for Solice), there must have been something that the staff liked. There was some talk about him blowing up following a big senior season.
The bottom line: add one or two offensive linemen, and this would be a class without any weaknesses.
My top 5 most important recruits are, as following:
1. Tom Savage
2. Logan Ryan
3. De'Antwan Williams
4. Mohamed Sanu
5. Paul Carrezola
Carrezola (without a doubt), Sanu, Ryan, Williams (depending on how the depth chart plays out), Savage, Harmon, and even Hayward with the wide-open WR depth chart are candidates to see the field early. Schiano fielded a question about redshirting at the presser. He'll play freshmen if they can't be kept off the field; but one of the hallmarks of making progress as a program is the ability to redshirt most of your class, and reload as needed two to three years down the line. Ideally, that's what will happen going forward.
This is a good class. Fanhood: validated.