The Rutgers defense was expected to be a team strength going into the year, and all of the reports coming out of Saturday's scrimmage have done little to shake that assessment. It's taken for granted that the front seven will be really good, reminiscent of other quality Greg Schiano units over the past half decade. Any intrigue at all stems from determining whether or not hyped redshirt freshman Logan Ryan is ready to start at corner.
At the same time, the Rutgers offense is green all around, and the offensive line couldn't settle much during spring practice with several contributors out injured. It's the engine that makes the rest of that side of the ball go, so it's obviously a big concern. Rutgers isn't going to replicate its 2006 formula of winning with excellent defense and special teams if Tom Savage and co. can't stay on the field and sustain drives. Everybody in the state of Rutgers counting down to September has to be worried about this critical question mark.
It's a general rule to college football that defenses are usually far ahead of offenses in the spring, and the latter group isn't going to shake off that rust overnight.
"The defense is certainly playing at a higher level right now, but the offense will get better," said Schiano, whose team will break training camp Aug. 25 in preparation for the Sept. 2 opener against Football Championship Subdivision foe Norfolk State. "This week is going to be very important for our offensive football team — our whole football team — to look at the mistakes and improve on them."
Don't hit the panic button just yet, but improvement is needed. Center Howard Barbieri and tailback Joe Martinek sat this one out, although injuries will always be a fact of life for every program.
The upside of course to all of this is if the defense has reloaded from losing five starters to graduation without missing a beat.
No one is ready to make any public declarations yet about this Rutgers defense — at least not before a game has been played. But the whispers that started in the spring and carried over into preseason camp may become a bit more audible now.
This could be the best defensive team head coach Greg Schiano has had in his 10 years on the job.
Look at the schedule. UNC has a better defense, and Pitt/West Virginia are comparable to Rutgers. The offense is playing guys in practice who are some degree better than the other nine games on the schedule. It's by no means ideal, but some context here is important. If the Scarlet Knights can't block Scott Vallone, chances are that the competition isn't going to fare that well either. Mason Robinson gets the lede from the Ledger, but it's #94 who comes off as the real star of practice. (Note: I am going to turn into Goku when the next time a Big East preview completely ignores him.)
On that note, it's important to point out that similar themes are coming out of the other weekend Big East scrimmages (except for, oddly, West Virginia and Syracuse). USF had a lot of injuries/roster turnover at their offensive skill positions, so is anyone really surprised that they're having issues? I know people must be shocked too that a Zach Frazer-led offense with no Marcus Easley has some growing pains, but that's the story as of now.
Pitt's in a similar position to Rutgers with their offensive line issues. They have a walk-on center and right guard is a huge sore spot too. That's with huge turnover at DT and Greg Romeus out injured (although the Panthers are crazy loaded at DE). I'm already terrified of Romeus and Sheard, so the thought of a twisting Vallone flanked by incoming blitzers coming from all directions is welcome and comforting at the moment. Worst comes to worst, the Big East this fall will offer some unwatchable defensive slugfests akin to the ACC of recent memory.