With the recent struggles on the offensive line, is it fair to demote Kyle Flood to mere demigod status? Admittedly, after the absolute stellar line play back in 2005 and 2006, I thought the good times would never end. 2007 had some miscues, with Pedro Sosa battling a leg injury, and some porous run blocking at RG before Davis replaced Haslam in the starting lineup. It was easy to excuse last year's struggles; the line was young, they were still average in pass protection, and did improve in the second half of the season.
To everyone in the stands, there's no rhyme or reason why the line would actively regress over last season. Starting guard Caleb Ruch has missed a few games, as has his understudy Des Wynn, but there seem to be deeper issues at work. The Rutgers offense this year is seemingly relying on all sorts of flash and trickery, when a lot of the fans out there just want to go back to the 2006 offense. You know, lunch pail, kick them in the teeth, push the opposing DL five to ten yards off the ball on every play. That's what everyone was anticipating in August when speculating about whether or not the Knights could win the Big East this year. It would have been behind dominating line play, and nothing could be further from the case at this point.
One notion that I've been thinking about, off and on, over the past two months; isn't it about time that the Rutgers defensive line coach, Gary Emanuel, started to get more recognition? Going back to when Emanuel was hired last year, I remember being very excited. He was in the NFL for two years, and had the same job from '97-'04 at Purdue. That's rather notable, because if you look at Purdue's track record over that period, it's pretty good, with multiple NFL contributors. On the banks, his charges have continued to perform at a high level. There are a lot of younger defensive linemen who have played well at this point.
I would say that Emanuel is a clearcut challenger to Flood, but that wouldn't be fair to Bob Fraser, and what he's been doing with the linebackers. In a way, it's even more impressive, because Rutgers had been pretty good up front for the most part in Schiano's tenure. With the exception of 2003 and 2006, the linebackers were always a trouble spot (2oo7 may have been better if D'Imperio was healthy). All of a sudden, it's a strength over the past two seasons, and that's still jarring to me. That unit has lost veterans like Renkart and Malast and not missed a beat. Munoz and D'Imperio leave after the season?
Doesn't everyone feel like we'll just plug in Abreu and maybe Glaud next year, and have a chance at being even better? Then, there's always a Beauharnais or a Booker waiting in the wings. That's not to mention Fraser's performance as co-defensive coordinator, along with secondary coach Ed Pinkham. If there's one nit pick here, it's that even though both Fraser and S/T coach Robb Smith are originally from Western Pennsylvania, you really don't hear Rutgers involved with recruits from that area much. There's a player here and there, but not merely to the extent that say, Pittsburgh is doing on our home turf. I don't know whether that's a conscious decision or not (there's far more competition in WPIAL than NJ, owing to the Big Ten), but it is something that I've been thinking about a little.
All in all, the jury's still out, but I think it's time to start thinking about Fraser and Emanuel as integral assistants along with Flood and Joe Susan.
As far as the new hires go, it's still too early to tell. The RB coach, Randy Trivers, does have a lot of contacts in the Maryland area, and Brian Jenkins with the receivers is starting to get Rutgers back involved in South Florida in a major way. Is it fair to say that both of those units have struggled though? Respectively, the run blocking has been poor, and none of the second-year receivers on the team have stepped up. With no Mason Robinson this year, the offense has started to look to the freshmen for a third option behind Tim Brown and Mohamed Sanu.
It's difficult to measure the impact of having a quality staff of assistants. There was (yet another) round of staff turnover last spring, which led to the usual consternation about Coach Schiano is a taskmasker who forces his assistants to sleep in their offices. Maybe so, but ot's important to look at the context of each specific situation. Are there really any good options available to fend off a NFL team or a football factory when they come looking? There doesn't seem to be any hard and fast empirical law linking this churn with a team's W/L record and on-field performance. Stability seems "nice" as a vague, guiding goal, but shouldn't really be an end in itself, over having the best possible staff in place.
Like so many factors involed in the game of football, I think a lot of it is just pure chance, and any justifications or explanations are inherently the result of a big old case of hindsight bias. Why not just go out and say that then, instead of rambling on for 900 words? Well, posters on the Grease Truck forum said that I'm too dense. I'll show them dense.