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2014 Rutgers football training camp: Offensive line

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After an underachieving season, the offensive line has the experience and size to play Big Ten ball.

Redshirt soph. lineman J.J. Denman
Redshirt soph. lineman J.J. Denman
The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

As a former offensive line coach, Kyle Flood must be excited for the 2014 season. His line returns five experienced players who bring 98 career starts for the inaugural B1G season, and there's substantial depth waiting in the wings from the stellar 2012 recruiting class. After an underachieving 2013 campaign, 2014 looks to be brighter with new coach Mitch Browning teaching fundamentals that were somehow missed prior to his arrival. Let's take a look at the current roster:

Training Camp Depth Chart

Name Pos. Ht., Wt. Class Starts
Keith Lumpkin LT 6'8", 310 R-Jr. 13
Kaleb Johnson LG 6'4", 300 Sr. 36
Betim Bujari C 6'4", 295 R-Sr. 23
Chris Muller RG 6'6", 300 R-So. 12
Taj Alexander RT 6'4", 290 R-Sr. 14
Bryan Leoni OL 6'6", 290 R-Sr.
J.J. Denman OL 6'6", 300 R-So.
Derrick Nelson OL 6'3", 290 R-So.
Ryan Brodie OL 6'5", 305 R-So.
Dorian Miller OL 6'3", 285 R-Fr.
Jamil Pollard OL 6'3", 275 So.
Zack Heeman OL 6'7", 270 Fr.
Tariq Cole OL 6'6", 350 Fr.
Marcus Applefield OL 6'6", 290 Fr.
Jacquis Webb OL 6'5", 310 Fr.

It's hard to ask for a better situation entering the season. Almost everyone from the line returns from last year, and news out of training camp (ending today) is mostly good things regarding the backup linemen. Size definitely won't be an issue against the beefy lines in the B1G. With some lackluster performances against Louisville (eight sacks given up) and UCF (69 yards rushing) in 2013, the unit should greatly benefit from better play-calling from Ralph Friedgen and a season of more experience.

One issue that can become precarious is depth behind the starting lineup. There's a boatload of potential behind players like Betim Bujari and Keith Lumpkin, but none of the backups have proven, real-game experience. That won't be a huge issue in terms of giving one of the starters a rest for a series or two, but if Kaleb Johnson goes down for a long period of time, his backup better step up quickly.

Speaking of backups, that's still something that needs to be officially sorted out. The latest report out of camp stated that the backup line consisted of LT Zack Heeman, LG Tariq Cole, C Derrick Nelson, RG Ryan Brodie, and RT J.J. Denman. However, that lineup is mostly due to players sitting out training camp sessions from injuries. Bryan Leoni will most likely be the backup to RT Taj Alexander, leaving Denman and Brodie to battle for one of the guard positions. Dorian Miller looks like a good candidate for backup left guard, leaving left tackle somewhat unknown. It's possible one of the freshmen can step in, but it's hard to duplicate the size and athleticism of Lumpkin.

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With practice ending today, RU has been pretty fortunate to come out as healthy as they are, especially along the offensive line. With plenty of experience in the starting lineup and ridiculous talent in the two-deep, it's hard to see the unit as anything but a strength heading into the B1G. Now that Ralph Friedgen and Mitch Browning are running things, fans can realistically hope they don't hear much news out of the offensive line this season, which is almost always a good thing.