This fall, the quarterback position for Rutgers begins and ends with one Brandon Chas Dodd.
Sure, the wildcat formation may reappear for a play or two a game (there will be open revolt in the stands if it's any more frequent than that.) Jeremy Deering is a dynamic runner from under center. Mohamed Sanu actually could have been a viable passing option if given a fair chance. That all is largely irrelevant. Entering the fall, Rutgers finds itself in exactly the same position that it did a year ago; albeit with a different QB this time. A hotshot true freshman gunslinger returns for his sophomore year, although significant questions remain. The depth chart is alarmingly thin behind him, with a true freshman likely to seize backup duties. Such is life at Rutgers following the long reigns of Ryan Hart and Mike Teel.
Greg Schiano had stuck with a formula throughout the early part of his Rutgers coaching tenure. A signal caller would emerge early in his career, and that player would then be the guy until graduation. That's how it was with Hart and Teel, and everything seemed to be going according to plan with Tom Savage last season until collapsing in a flurry of backfield penetrations by opposing defenders, hits to the turf, and the inexplicable overuse of spread offensive formations. Savage was hung out to dry by an offensive coordinator who was a bad fit for the team's personnel, and better suited to being a receivers' coach. Savage wore down physically; anyone would have under such a brutal beating. That level of stress took its mental toll as well.
Savage surrendered his starting job to freshman Chas (pronounced "Chase") Dodd, and transferred after the season in lieu of fighting through an open competition in spring practice. With 2010 written off as a lost season, the once-heralded savior of Rutgers football is now an Arizona Wildcat. Scarlet Knight faithful have now anointed running back Savon Huggins as The One. Huggins, coupled with a revamped offensive line and a proven FBS offensive coordinator, may well be the elixir to what woes the offense. Until he proves it on the field, the burden of rebuilding confidence in the Rutgers offense, and the football program as a whole falls squarely on Dodd's shoulders.
Chas Dodd, well, he has positive and negative qualities. In spite of his uninspiring physical stature, he has a very strong arm. Coupled with his accuracy, aren't those pretty much the two fundamental building blocks of a good quarterback? He sees the field well, with a knack for finding open receivers. One can look back at his textbook passing clinic game against UConn (yeah, preseason prognosticators, you might want to hold up on calling them the best secondary in the league) and project the moon going forward. For a pocket passer, Dodd is an instinctual scrambler. He isn't Sanu or Deering out there by any means, but at points he showed an able willingness to tuck the football and scurry for extra yardage.
Well, he did until the hits starting piling up. Pressure was coming from all sides, on every down, which had an alarming effect on Dodd's timing and internal clock. He was thrown out of sync, locking on to receivers and forcing questionable throws into double coverage. Other questions are abound too. Dodd was consistently brilliant during his high school career at Byrnes in South Carolina. Every DI program east of the Mississippi River must have seen his film, but Rutgers was the only high-level scholarship offer for the coach's son with the red-tinged bangs and prominent beard.
That was largely attributable to his (lack of) height, and questions about how he would adjust from Byrnes's spread offense. Height is always going to be a question mark, as defenders will focus on trying to tip his passes at the line of scrimmage. With Rutgers switching back to a pro-style offense this season, an even bigger question remains Dodd's ability to adjust and learn the scheme; a concern going beyond the normal trials and tribulations of an inexperienced sophomore. Maybe he had a leg up with Rutgers running the spread, and now has to start from scratch.
With Steve Shimko felled by injury, backup duties will likely fall to pair of incoming true freshmen in Gary Nova and Mike Bimonte. The book on Nova is that he's accurate, and more importantly, he's polished. Don Bosco Prep has run through North Jersey football like a freight train over the past few seasons. Not only did Bosco have an overwhelming talent advantage in most games, but he was not exactly piling up repetitions by sitting early with the Ironmen up by multiple touchdowns, and most of his experience up to now came in a pass-happy spread. Other immediate concerns are with his size and arm strength. Nova could be an ideal choice to back up Dodd as a freshman, but time will tell whether he has the physical tools to excel in DI.
Mike Bimonte is in many respects the polar opposite of, and ideal complement to Gary Nova. Bimonte was a late bloomer, benefiting from a delayed growth spurt and steady improvement throughout his career with an unheralded Manalapan High that featured a run-heavy offense. He physically looks the part standing 6'4, with a strong arm. Last summer, before Nova was a realistic option for Rutgers, Bimonte blew away all comers at a Rutgers recruiting camp to earn his scholarship offer. He then proceeded to validate the offer with a good senior season. The bottom line: Bimonte may be behind Nova on the depth chart for the next year or two, but he is more physically gifted, and that could portend a starting job down the line if he can match Nova's leadership, work ethic, and accuracy.
In a nutshell, Rutgers is about right where they were on paper last fall, if not a notch worse. Chas Dodd showed signs of promise as a true freshman, but will not inspire the same overwhelming optimism due to him lacking Tom Savage's blue chip pedigree. The skill position supporting cast will be very good, but the 800-lb gorilla in the room this fall will be how the offensive line is able to protect Dodd. Believe it or not, Rutgers actually has more depth this year than a year ago, although you will not find many programs envious of two true freshmen backing up a true sophomore. There's promise, and room to see the glass half-empty or half-full, but no Rutgers fan in their right mind can feel comfortable about their quarterback depth chart on paper right now. Maybe if play action opens up, and Dodd can start feeding Savon a steady diet of carries...