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2009 Season Preview: Tight Ends

Projected 2009 depth chart

Shamar Graves (RS-JR 6′3, 235 lbs), Paul Carrezola (FR 6'2, 250 lbs), Fabian Ruiz (RS-SO 6'4, 245 lbs)

Between the two of them, Kevin Brock and Shamar Graves made a more than respectable tandem at the tight end position for Rutgers last year. In a conference of spread-options, mediocre offensive lines, and run heavy offenses; merely being the safety net in a conventional pro style offense made Brock and Graves one of the most productive combinations in the Big East, totaling over 40 catches, 500 yards, and 5 touchdowns.

Brock played respectably in the first half of the season, but didn't see a lot of action with the entire offense sputtering. It's a coincidence that the entire team started playing better around the same time that Graves took over, but that doesn't mean that it was the wrong move. If an underclassman with two-plus years of eligibility remaining can put up similar levels of production, then it's the right move to start them over a senior at a similar level. Brock still saw time in multiple tight end sets in the second half of the season, and looked to have an edge in run blocking and pass protection.

The reason that Graves cracked the starting lineup was that he brings a level of athleticism to the position, even higher than that of the workout warrior Brock, which Rutgers had not seen at tight end since L.J. Smith departed for the NFL. He's a former high school receiver, a natural pass catching-oriented TE - just like Brock, Clark Harris, and Fabian Ruiz, among others.

He's not just a blocker, the way former tight end Sam Johnson was. He's not pass-catching dominant the way former all-Big East tight end Clark Harris was, either.

He's really more of a hybrid -- part tight end, part receiver, part H-back. Graves is the only tight end on the roster who will sometimes line up in the backfield as a blocking back.

"I don't know exactly what I am," said Graves. "I'm a motion tight end. I guess that means whatever then need me to do, I do. I do a little bit of fullback, tight end and wide receiver. It's not really one thing. I guess you can say I'm a different type of tight end."

Despite battling injuries and inconsistency this spring, Graves is close to a sure bet to start, owing to the relative lack of experienced depth at this position. Going into fall camp, he'll need to focus on becoming a more well rounded player. That means bulking up, improving his blocking and route running, and becoming a sorely needed third down safety valve in the middle of the field for the offense. Rutgers looks even greener at wide receiver this year. Along with shifting to rely more heavily on the running game again, expect the Scarlet Knights, when they do pass the ball, to heavily feature high-percentage passes to Graves and receiving specialist fullback Jack Corcoran. With a good season, Shamar has a chance to be in the mix for all-conference honors this year, and registering on the national radar next summer.

Like Graves, Fabian Ruiz is another pass-first, former receiver. He has as much riding on fall camp as anyone; having a chance to either work his way up the depth chart, or fall of it entirely. Ruiz didn't see the field much as a freshman last year, and the staff even briefly experimented with giving him a look at defensive end. With the depth chart at the position depleted, he was back at tight end for spring practice, working second behind Graves. Going back to when the staff first discovered him in their last permitted round of camps in Florida, they were genuinely excited about the athleticism that he brought to the position. The offensive staff clearly wants playmakers that can get downfield here.

Marquise Hamm redshirted last season, and it was always up in the air whether he would end up on offense or defense. He was third behind Graves and Ruiz in the spring, and remains a question mark to this point. With his frame, it'd be nice to see Hamm develop into a stout blocker in time after trainer Jay Butler works his magic with him. Morgan Carter is another player that could conceivably be in the mix (along with other position changes), but the spring roster had him at linebacker. Certain packages on offense will deploy fullbacks Jack Corcoran and Andres Morales as H-Backs coming out of the backfield. Nor would it be a surprise to see an offensive lineman like Howard Barbieri once again see some work here lining up in three-TE, goal line, and various special teams alignments.

It's not out of the question that Ruiz or even Hamm could step up into the two-deep with a strong fall camp, but there's an opening right now that's practically begging one of the incoming freshmen in either Paul Carrezola or Malcolm Bush to come in immediately and contribute. Rutgers badly needed two tight ends in the class of 2009 to address its thin depth chart at the position, and Carrezola and Bush were exactly what the doctor ordered.

Carrezola is the better bet to contribute right away. He brings to mind Sam Johnson; for my money, the most underrated player of Greg Schiano's tenure, and we still haven't seen his role adequately replaced in the offense two seasons after his departure. Having that kind of player again for two-TE formations would be a considerable boost. Carrezola is touted as polished enough to contribute from day one; like Johnson, he may not have sprinter's speed, but he's a strong blocker with dependable hands.

Carrezola’s tall stature (6-foot-3) and sizable frame (255 pounds) have been used on both sides of the ball.

Despite a lack of receiving numbers early in the season, the Rutgers signee became a huge part of the offense because of a great blocking style that helped free up running backs Quilan Arnold and Bryan Dean. Lately, he has become more of a pass-catching threat – including the grab of a 2-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown in last weekend’s 21-14 victory over Garnet Valley.

That's exactly what you look for in a #2 tight end. Carrezola is the odds-on favorite of all of the incoming freshmen to both forgo a redshirt, and see the most immediate playing time. His status as second on my projected depth chart both speaks highly of him, and to the sheer uncertainty behind Graves.

Bush is rawer, and the more likely of the two to redshirt this season, but his higher ceiling could portend a starting role over Carrezola two or three years down the line. I see him as another in the line of pass-first tight ends that Rutgers has favored recently.

Graves is a solid enough bet, weighing his obvious potential against the need to see him produce for a full season. Inexperience among the backups here has to make even the optimists somewhat nervous. That predicament was not by design; the staff brought in two TEs in Jesse Cisco and Jeff Minemyer in the class of 2006. Unfortunately, both of them washed out because of injury, and a potential strength down the road turned into a relative weakness. I'm high on Graves as a breakout candidate; that's why, as a whole; I'd rate the overall strength of this position entering 2009 as somewhere between average to above average. It's not ideal and there are reasons for both hope and fear here. Compared to peer schools, I'd guess that our status here is somewhere between the fiftieth and seventieth percentiles. Let's call it sixtieth and split the difference.