ESPN's Brian Bennett talked with Coach Schiano last week (the transcript was posted in two parts), and their conversation basically just lays out the entire projected depth chart going into spring practice. Notable updates are on De'Antwan Williams and Manny Abreu from my cursory glance at everything. There was hardly any discussion about all the younger players on the roster anyone's hoping to get a glimpse at in the coming weeks. With everything the spring presser reportedly today, this is as good a time as any to talk a little football again and start building some anticipation up.
At the moment it looks like there are three big question marks on the roster heading into spring practice. For the second year in a row, Rutgers features one returning productive starter at wide receiver, and a plethora of greener question marks. Of the group of four second-year receivers in 2009, none of them eventually stepped up. That was left to Mohamed Sanu, who had spent all spring impressing at safety (as an early enrollee freshman no less), to switch positions and ... instantly dominate the spring game en route to an impressive freshman debut.
After the likes of Tim Wright and Keith Stroud failed to make the most of their early opportunities, and Mason Robinson was lost for the season, later on true freshman Mark Harrison emerged as the most viable option in the slot. Harrison's big, fast, and was highly productive in high school. Everyone was pretty much assuming that he'd open up the spring on top of the depth chart, and Schiano's comments to Bennett basically confirm that. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's time to give up on the returning sophomores on the roster, even if they haven't proven to be instant impact players like Sanu and Britt. Freshmen Quron Pratt and Aaron Hayward are also coming off redshirts. Pratt was a late bloomer in high school, but I'm really interested to see what Hayward's able to do as he continues to adjust to the position.
The Rutgers offensive line was a disaster last season, and the truly frustrating part about their performance is that there wasn't really an obvious culprit beyond Caleb Ruch missing a lot of time injured. Upperclassmen Anthony Davis, Ryan Blaszczyk, and Kevin Haslam all depart, although none of them played all that well in 2009. The key to whether or not this year's offense will be productive enough to challenge for a conference title likely rests on the ability of coach Kyle Flood to whip the unit into shape, and prove that last season was an aberration.
Guard Art Forst shifts out to tackle and he'll likely be joined on the outside by Des Stapleton, although it remain unclear which of them will play on the left or right sides. The rule usually is that good tackles are even more effective inside, but I'm not so sure that was the case with Forst. He still looked relatively green (as a true sophomore) against stunts and exotic blitzes. He could be much better on the edge where there won't be as many opportunities for opposing rushers to get into his zone. Forst was a top recruit before arriving on the packs, and Stapleton was a pretty good one at that (and his brother was excellent as a JUCO transfer several years back).
We pretty much have to assume that both Forst and Stapleton at least will be good, because if they're not, then the line's going to be awful again and there's no cause for optimism at all. Add in a returning Ruch and former walk-on Howard Barbieri in some combination at guard or center, and those four are probably set as starters for good or bad. The former defensive linemen Des Wynn saw a lot of time at guard last year after Ruch went down, but he'll miss valuable reps in the spring coming off injury.
Not having Wynn for now belies the fact that assorted factors have really thinned out their depth at interior lineman. That's why it was so important to get two freshmen in Butim Bujari and Frank Quartucci enrolled early, an incoming transfer from Hofstra in Matt McBride, and there was another position switch with Antwan Lowery getting a look for now at guard (likely compensating for only signing two OL to begin with in the '09 recruiting class).
Two months ago I predicted that Brandon Bing would open spring as a starter at corner over Brandon Jones, and right now that seems like the most likely scenario considering what Schiano said. It's still hard to forget Bing and departing senior Billy Anderson in zone getting repeatedly torched in the opener against Cincinnati, essentially forcing David Rowe into the starting lineup earlier than anticipated. Bing was still one of the top four corners last year in terms of playing time.
It's easy to say that the staff wanted to preserve redshirts for freshmen Logan Ryan, Darrell Givens, and Abdul Smith, but Bing played more than Brandon Jones too. Despite any grumbling about Bing, he and Jones are likely going to get the first cracks before the kids do. It's entirely possible that a washout from receiver could shift over too to add more veteran depth. As with the corners, it'll be a lot of fun to see what Duron Harmon can do at safety, although Khaseem Greene showed enough promise that year that he'll be a clear early favorite to start opposite Joe Lefeged.
Those are the biggest concerns going into the spring, although there are other looming mysteries regarding the roster and depth chart. It won't be too long now before the public gets their first taste of Rutgers football in the 2010 calendar year. Cherish it as much as you can over the next month, because the real unbearable dregs of the offseason start after the spring game, and nobody can be looking forward to that.