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Why isn't De'Antwan Williams playing?

On Tuesday Coach Schiano uttered a rare public comment about the status of tailback De'Antwan Williams.

How is De’Antwan’s pass protection?

"He is fine. That is not a reason that is keeping him out of the line-up if that is what you are alluding to."

No coach is going to throw a player under the bus in public. Taking Schiano as his word though, there is still considerable fan speculation about why Williams does not regularly play. In fact, this topic has been dominating the various message boards for months, and the debate is starting to come up to a crescendo. De'Antwan came into Rutgers last year as a highly touted prospect, which his high school highlight videos bared out. When Williams played in the NJ/NE game, I thought he was a little too quick to cut outside and needed more of a straight-ahead running style, but his talent was clearly evident. He has also looked impressive at Rutgers in an extremely small sample size against inferior competition.

If pass protection isn't holding him back, then either De'Antwan Williams is being held back by some other issue, or he simply hasn't been as good as Joe Martinek and freshman Jordan Thomas. That pair cannot be fairly judged due to poor offensive line play. Maybe Williams is just a bust, as a certain percentage of recruits always will be, or perhaps he is one of those guys who does not practice well. Thinking back to 2005, it was curious how the staff back then was very eager to pull Ryan Hart for Mike Teel at quarterback, supposedly based off the latter's superior practice performances. The senior Hart proved to be the better option in games though.

Every staff in the country will always attempt to do what they believe is in the best interest of their programs, but even the best will make some mistakes in talent evaluation, or bench players for off-field reasons that are not revealed to the public. I will probably still be asking why Joe Porter fell down the depth chart twenty years from now. Jack Corcoran was a good pass-catching fullback, but it did not make on-field sense to start him over Andres Morales last year if the Rutgers offense was not going to call enough swing passes to even use Corcoran as a reliable decoy. There is some precedent, but this is dangerous ground for the most part where it is not possible to make an informed judgment.

It is a bitter pill to swallow, but I have made my peace with Rocket Williams as a non-contributor, just as I did with Kordell Young repeatedly blowing out his knees, or Mason Robinson getting lost in the roster shuffle and hurting his knee. Players will break out or regress without warning all of the time, but falling behind freshmen on the depth chart without clear extenuating circumstances is a bad sign. For now, Jordan Thomas has a lot of potential, and Joe Martinek has all the makings of an effective complementary third down back. With any luck, Casey Turner will come off his redshirt healthy next year and see touches, and who knows what the recruiting trail will bring in February.

This rotation is a concern, but intrinsically linked to how the offensive line performs. I wonder about Rocket too, but his status is largely a moot point now anyway. Anyone following Rutgers football would be better off worrying about the guys up front. If they do not get it together, then forget Williams. Ray Rice would not be finding many open rushing lanes right now. They are a prerequisite to offensive success, and Rutgers will keep sputtering on that side of the ball until this critical concern is addressed.