The end of the beginning part of training camp is upon us. Kickoff - a real one - is less than two weeks away. We have a much better idea of how this team will look. We have a better idea how the coaching staff is gelling, we know which freshman have a shot to play, we have had a few injuries (nothing catastrophic), and we have a good idea of how the depth chart shakes out. So where do we stand?
Offensive Standout (the "No Surprise" division)
Andy Egan: I think there are four candidates for this, from whom a great performance is not a surprise to anyone: Nova, Kroft, James and Caroo. I like Nova here, primarily because his strong performance so far is a result of him (and the Fridge) fixing his mental performance issues, not simply a matter of recovering from nagging injuries suffered last year.
Ray Ransom**: I think there's one guy who we're all overlooking as All Mr. Badass 2014. That man is Michael Burton. The guy is awesome and if you look at the games when he's been injured; well, they've been ugly. He blocks like an animal. He catches the ball like a mother coddling a newborn. He runs routes like a danseur. It's crazy to say it, but Michael Burton is the backbone of our offense. Honorable Mention: Sam "like a hundred carries in the last scrimmage" Bergen. **[Editor's Note: Ray asked us to let you know he was three sheets to the wind when he wrote these responses, and he begs your forgiveness for being even more Ray Ransom-ish than normal as a result]
Bob Cancro: I like Burton, too. A tough-minded guy who could fit the B1G mold. Pound it out and punish. Caroo and Kroft are key to success for the O and for Nova.
Dave White: Temple Gibbs, who visited practice with Eddie Jordan last week, would be a great fit and can shoot the 3. He'd be a break out player at RU.
Kevin Recio: I like Leonte Carroo here. I miss the dependability of Mohamed Sanu with his sure-hands, and it seems like Carroo is catching everything in sight (he has better speed too).
Offensive Standout ("Out of the Blue" division)
AE: Going with TE Matt Flanagan. I wasn't very familiar with the 6'6" 230 lb. Mendham native before this year, but he is pushing hard to be the 2nd TE on the depth chart. Here's Coach Flood:
"He is a very talented person in the classroom and on the football field,'' the Scarlet Knights coach said. "We're really proud of him and we're really excited about what he's going to bring to our football team. Because he's going to impact our football team this year as a redshirt freshman.''
BC: I think it's Nova. Considering everything that everyone has said or felt about the guy, he seems to be stepping into his role as the senior QB. Fridge has been extraordinarily positive and complimentary about him, saying that he picked up on the mechanics corrections quickly and that his skills and vision are very good. We all said he was the key. I think he may be just that! And on the positive side.
DW: Eddie also brought 2016 St. Anthony's guard Jagan Mosely to Rutgers football practice.
KR: Desmon Peoples. It probably shouldn't count since he's been awarded most-improved player of spring practice a couple of times already, but I'm still surprised he's made it this far - essentially the leading candidate for backup RB to Paul James with Goodwin moved to CB.
Defensive Standout ("No Surprise Division")
AE: Darius Hamilton. Darius is going to explode onto the national scene this year. No more making plays against [4 future NFL draft-pick] QBs - the B1G spotlight will make Hamilton a star this year. Me, every night: "Dear Lord - please let Darius Hamilton do so many bad things to Christian Hackenberg that the kid quits football in the second quarter and drops out to sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door in Virginville, PA (real place)."
Defensive Standout ("Out of the Blue" Division)
AE: Djwany Mera. Mera is not an "unknown" but sometimes he seems to be overshadowed by teammates like Hamilton and Longa. But he might be one of the most disruptive players on this team when we look back in December.
KR: Kemoko Turay. He was so raw when he arrived in Piscataway, I wasn't sure what to make of him. But after getting some rave reviews from Darius, he looks like he could be a future beast on D. He seems like a pure athlete, and if the coaches can fine-tune his game, he could be the pass rush that RU really needs on the edge.
Biggest Position Group Strength
AE: D-Line. This is a deep, consistent attacking group and the Knights are going to rely on the front four all year. Hamilton, Mera, Milewski, Turay, Joseph, Lambert, and JPO will stack up well with the big boys in the B1G.
RR: I'm going with Linebackers. You've got everything you need for an epic core of the defense. The heady, steady veteran? Kevin Snyder has you covered, with some sneaky athleticism to boot. Look for one of those stat lines with at least a 1 in every possible defensive statistic. The young gun with incredible upside? I've got your Steve Longa right here. The guy has all the athleticism of Mike Tyson without the weird tiger fetishes. SLB has about 12 athletes who could start for any defense in America. Look for the RU Linebackers to absolutely destroy the run and limit the short passing game to a lot of consolitory cry-hugs in the locker room after the game.
BC: Linebackers first, D-line second. A lot of experience, a lot of depth. It will be the saving grace in a tough year with a very brutal schedule. Compare that to the secondary. Oh, wait, that's next.
KR: Defensive line. There's great talent at the starting positions, and experienced depth for the substitute downs.
Biggest Position Group Question Mark
AE: Secondary, again. Rutgers defensive backfield is again dealing with injuries and a lack of experience. Barnwell and Boggs should be good to go by the first game, which would be a huge relief, but this group is still the biggest question mark for this team, and will be until they stay healthy and avenge the torchings they received last year.
RR: Holy Schiano is our secondary screwed. I'll give you that we have good, potentially great, starting corners. I have faith in Cioffi, Barnwell (Nadir is what your route tree will be in) and Glashen, but if one of those guys goes down, I don't have a ton of faith in our DB depth.
BC: Secondary. The recent injuries showed the lack of depth on a unit that was toasted a lot last year. Big question, of course, was it the fault of the players or the coaching? If Rossi can scheme it right and give these guys some chances, and if the D-line plays like we're all believing it can, it might not be as bad as it currently looks.
KR: It's already been said and it makes me sad.
AE: Boggs and Lott are likely to see a lot of playing time, but I'm going with Josh Hicks. The Florida RB was way under-recruited because he was so solid to Rutgers, but he did turn down the Florida powers when they finally got wise to him. Nothing we have seen from training camp has done anything to lessen the buzz around him. He looks like the real deal. Honorable Mention: Alan Lucy - we might have to punt a lot this year, and a good long-snapper makes that part of the game so much more predictable.
RR: Alan Lucy is going to be the best player you never heard about. You know how Rutgers never has those embarrassing "OH NOES THE PUNTER TRIED TO PASS IT BECAUSE IT WAS A LOW SNAP" plays? That's because they emphasize the long snapper position. Lucy is going to be a rock in 2014 and beyond.
BC: Andre Boggs will help with that thin secondary. Tariq Cole and maybe Jacquis Webb could do the same for the O-line. But Josh Hicks, besides being a very good RB, might have made it possible for Goodwin to go over to defense. So maybe his impact was more significant.
KR: Kam Lott. Secondary needs help, and he's in the running with Boggs for playing time from day one.
Biggest Position Battle Surprise
AE: I think it's Laviano winning the backup QB spot. I expected that to go a lot longer, maybe right up to the first game, but Laviano has been very solid, as he demonstrated in Saturday's scrimmage.
RR: I'm actually surprised John Tsimis didn't make it onto the 2-deep. While that may change in the future, it sounded like he was the perfect slot receiver for The Fridge's multiple offense.
BC: The secondary. We all thought it was pretty stable, if not good. The injuries changed that. And while it isn't your "traditional" position battle, it has created an interesting, and maybe scary, scenario.
KR: Not too many big surprises so far, except for maybe Glashen not holding off freshmen CBs. I'll say I think we're still in for a surprise at wide receiver. Carlton Agudosi just had a great practice last week.
Not a Captain, but Could/Should Have Been
AE: Kevin Snyder. No issue with any of the five captains (Nova, Hamilton, Burton, Waters, Milewski) but Snyder has been a rock at linebacker.
RR: Absolutely Kevin Snyder. The guy has been producing since his freshman year and took a lot of the heat for last year's Cohen-fuel hot mess. I agree that its hard to argue with the captains on the docket (part of the "problem" is that Rutgers recruits so many natural leaders, like Nova/Hamilton/Burton/Waters/Milewski/Snyder), but it feels like Snyder is absolutely a pillar of the defense.
BC: Can't argue. Snyder.
KR: Snyder definitely would be next in line. I wouldn't argue per se about Waters being named a captain, as I'm sure he's an amazing teammate. But I was still surprised to see him get voted as captain. All of the other guys have certain attributes that befit captain status (Nova - QB, Hamilton - best player on D, Milewski - comeback player, Burton - offensive stalwart), and I didn't realize that Waters was looked upon in the same way. I'm very happy for him, and I'm glad the secondary has a captain representative.
Best Story from Camp
AE: Club Ice. Inventive, positive, and a great team-builder. Plus, it went viral, in a good way, and presented Rutgers in a good light. We have our critiques, some more forceful than others, but players love playing for Flood, and stuff like this is art of the reason why. The LeGrand-Taliaferro announcement was cool too.
RR: Club Ice. That's how you ping the national radar. Great fun for the team and great for the national profile of Rutgers as a place where people go to get a world class education and have fun while doing it.
BC: Ice, Ice, Baby. We never garner attention, except for negative press. This was so cool (pun intended) and a great perk for the players. Galiano is doing a good job promoting things as the recruiting coordinator, like this.
DW: *cough* Kyle Flood helping Jordan recruit *cough*
KR: Ralph Friedgen's press conference. I *hate* coach speak, and this guy chooses not to do it. Mad props yo.
AE: We have been pretty lucky so far. I'll go with Ruhann Peele, because he was really going to be a major weapon. It's not clear how long he's out, but if its an extended period of time, that's a big hit.
RR: Pick your cornerback injury of the day. Any time I hear one of our defensive backs are injured, I get that really uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. It might be the acute Ellio's Pizza addiction I'm nurturing, but I seriously get agita every time I see a Rutgers DB on the injury report.
BC: Any and all. We aren't so deep that we can afford an injury to a starter, or a backup. The schedule is too demanding for that. I don't want anyone sitting for Howard!
KR: Savon Huggins, only because I feel bad for him. He's a loyal son, and he decided to stick it out at RU even if he had a chance to play elsewhere. I hope he makes a triumphant return.
On a Scale of 1 (80-7 WVU loss) to 10 (Louisville 06), How Are You Feeling About the Team?
AE: I'm about a 7.5. Lots of optimism coming out of camp (not unusual), but as I wrote a week or so back, I really do think this team is better in just about every way from last year.
RR:This might be the Brooklyn Brewery 8.4 ABV Blast! Ale talking, but I'm at 11 (TTFP '14) right now. We have one of the best front sevens in the country; just try and run on us. We have a potent passing attack that can put big plays together with the best of them (see that SEC team from the past 2 years). We have an explosive running game that can punish teams late in the game or break the big one to blow the game wide open.
BTN Bus Tour #Rutgers Most teams look better from the spring to fall camp but this team looked significantly better.— Gerry DiNardo (@gerrydinardo) August 8, 2014