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2010 Season Preview: Special Teams/Coaches

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Projected 2010 depth chart:

K: RS-JR San San Te (5'9, 180), RS-FR Kyle Sullivan (5'11, 176)

P: RS-SR Teddy Dellaganna (6'2, 210), RS-FR Kyle Sullivan (5'11, 176)

LS: RS-FR Robert Jones (6'0, 208), RS-FR Nick DePaola (6'0, 196)

The Rutgers special teams finally took a major step forward last season under new assistant Robb Smith, after being an achilles heel for several years running. The coverage units greatly improved, and the team is finally starting to cut down on their propensity for committing jaw-dropping mistakes (excepting a few Mason Robinson misfields in this year's opener against Norfolk.) Net punting and kickoff returns (thanks, Devin McCourty) both improved last season. Punt returns fell in the tank though, and field goals are still a major concern. When you take into account special teams turnovers however, for the first time in a few years Rutgers can look at these units as an asset.

In his third year as a starter, kicker San San Te needs to improve his level of performance. While it is very difficult to find good kickers on the college level, Te in his career has made under 70% of his kicks, and that percentage is too low.

"Last season I definitely didn't kick to my potential," Te said. "I had trouble getting into a rhythm. I feel like every time I get out there there has to be a certain feel to it. For some reason I couldn't get my groove. But I'm looking to find that this year."

He does have a reasonably strong leg however. It is one thing to miss on longer kicks, but Rutgers is at a significant disadvantage when even the ones under 40 yards are not a sure thing. There have been countless excuses made over Te's performance, but how many chances can he realistically get?

Punter Teddy Dellaganna handles kickoffs too. Dellaganna has a very strong leg, but is a little streaky, and has struggled with the finer points of the position. He hasn't been able to master directional "coffin corner" punts yet, or pinning the opponent deep without a punt rolling into the end zone for a touchback.

When asked about his success at coffin-corner kicking Dellaganna said, "It is such a big part of the game, and I’ve been trying to work on it and I feel like I’ve gotten better, so I’m excited."

More worrying is his slower release on punts, which is just asking opponents to go for a block. That's not to diminish or dismiss Dellaganna entirely. He's an above-average punter, and on a whole is a net asset for the football team.

Ever since Jeremy Ito's recruitment, the Rutgers staff has relied heavily on an outside consultant named Chris Sailer to scout and identify special teams prospects. Sailer found Ito, Te, and Dellaganna, and Sailer's associate Chris Rubio was responsible for unearthing freshman snapper Rob Horrell. Horrell is taking a medical redshirt this year, which is unfortunate considering that he stood a good chance of replacing the graduated Andy DePaola in that role.

Rutgers lost an excellent kick returner in Devin McCourty to the NFL, but so far safety Joe Lefeged has done a very good job of filling his shoes. Statistically, Mohamed Sanu didn't break that many big plays last year while fielding punts. Sanu takes enough hits on offense, and Mason Robinson deserves a chance to finally see the field, so it's all for the best that Robinson is taking over that role this season. Mase badly misread a few punts against Norfolk State, but he's looked fast in the handful of touches that he's seen up to this point.

The Rutgers offensive coordinator duties are split between QB coach Kirk Ciarrocca and OL coach Kyle Flood. Ciarrocca calls the plays though, largely building his reputation by working with Joe Flacco at Delaware. After a one-year apprenticeship coaching receivers, Ciarrocca was promoted after the team's previous offensive coordinator, John McNulty, departed for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.

The offense has moved more of a spread direction under Ciarrocca's watch, increasing use of the Shotgun formation and multiple-receiver sets. The team's offense has greatly struggled to this point during that same time frame, although it has to be noted that the personnel is very young, and the offensive line play has been awful. Most full offensive coordinators don't do much recruiting, although Ciarrocca is from central Pennsylvania, and does reportedly handle some prospects from there and the Philadelphia area.

RB coach Chris Hewitt is one of the more lower-profile assistants. He coached the team's cornerbacks until this year, but moving to running backs wasn't much of a stretch considering that is usually considered one of the less-important staff positions (along with TE coach). There hasn't really been much written about Hewitt on the recruiting trail, although he has targeted Florida prospects in the past.

WR coach P.J. Fleck has quickly made waves as the staff's newest addition. After Brian Jenkins left to become the head coach at Bethune-Cookman, Rutgers was all set to hire George McDonald from the Cleveland Browns before Eric Mangini and staff received an eleventh hour reprieve. McDonald in turn recommended his former pupil Fleck for the job. P.J. has really proven to be an asset for Florida recruiting, and the current roster receivers seem to like him. Honestly, Fleck sounds ambitious, and he's originally from Illinois. He seems like a rising star in the profession, and it would not be much of a surprise to see him jump to a Big Ten team next year. That's been my thinking from day one.

TE coach Phil Galiano returns for his second tour of duty at Rutgers. Galiano was previously a defensive assistant, and worked with another former RU assistant in Mario Cristobal as FIU's defensive coordinator before let go. After the team's former TE coach/recruiting coordinator Joe Susan took the head job at Bucknell, Galiano came back in a move that elicited a mixed reaction from Rutgers fans. TE coaches aren't that important, and Galiano admittedly is a good South Jersey recruiter. However, the LBs didn't play that well during his first tenure here. More importantly, there wasn't a replacement for Susan on staff as a New Jersey-focused recruiting coordinator.

OL coach Kyle Flood was an instant success at Rutgers, immediately turning around the team's line play, which arguably was the single biggest factor in the program's turnaround. There are signs though that his honeymoon period may be starting to come to an end. The OL's mixed play in 2008 was explainable, and they largely still lived up to expectations that year. They were awful however in 2009, and that miserable performance has continued on so far in 2010. That is no longer an isolated incident; it's a downward trend. Flood is a pretty good recruiter of the New York City area.

In contrast to Galiano, there was nearly uniform praise at the decision to bring back Randy Melvin as defensive line coach. Melvin had done fine work in his earlier stint with the team (before leaving for Illinois and then the NFL), and then resurfaced at Temple following Cleveland canning Romeo Crennel. After Gary Emanuel (who was an excellent assistant) left for Purdue, bringing back Melvin was both the easy and right choice. The only real knock on the guy is that he isn't much of a recruiter.

Rutgers actually also splits defensive coordinator duties between LB coach Bob Fraser and DB coach Ed Pinkham. That arrangement doesn't receive very much scrutiny, as it has largely proven to be successful. Fraser has really proven to be a find, with the team's linebackers turning into a perennial strength under his watch after being a seeming liability for years. Pinkham too has settled in nicely after the secondary struggled along with most of the team's other units during the first half of the 2008 season. Fraser went to college in western Pennsylvania, but seems to be used as more of a utility player as needed in recruiting. Pinkham is from Central New Jersey, but has started to carve out a niche in recruiting central and northern Florida.

Fraser and special teams coach Robb Smith both went to Allegheny College, which raises the question of why Rutgers does not have much of a presence in recruiting western Pennsylvania (beyond occasional examples like the McKeesport duo for the class of '11.) Does the staff deliberately place less of an emphasis on that area and Maryland/Virginia as peripheral to the so-called "State of Rutgers"? Otherwise, Smith has proven to be a fine, satisfactory hire so far in his brief tenure in Piscataway. The team's special teams units are far improved in the year and a half following his hire.

As of now there are two primary concerns as to the current staff makeup. With the offense struggling through the first half of 2010, Ciarrocca and Flood at the minimum have to be under a high level of scrutiny. Either their groups need to get it together, or a change will eventually have to be made. Secondly, Rutgers arguably does need one more additional New Jersey recruiter on staff. The current projected 2011 recruiting class looks pretty good, but arguably could have been even better with a beefed up local presence. Schiano clearly places the highest emphasis on coaching ability when it comes to assistant hires, which is fine, but in direct contrast to some of the other staffs around the country. Every program outside of the traditional powers will have to make some sacrifices.