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Rutgers Football: Offensive line preview

Keith Lumpkin's decision to return to Piscataway is a huge boost for the Rutgers offense.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Flood breathed a sigh of relief last winter when Keith Lumpkin opted to return to Piscataway.

The redshirt senior started all 13 games at left tackle for the past two seasons, covering the blind side for Gary Nova. With a new quarterback this season, he will be even more important. If Lumpkin had darted for the NFL, this preview would have a much different feel. But, to the glee of Rutgers Nation, he stayed.

After Lumpkin and Chris Muller, who has been the starting right guard for the past two years, no other lineman on the roster has starting experience. Right tackle J.J. Denman did earn some quality time last year, but the departures of Kaleb Johnson, Betim Bujari and Taj Alexander leave big holes, especially at the guard and center position.

Lumpkin and Denman are locks to start at the tackle positions after Denman had a phenomenal spring. Muller is also a lock to start, but the question is whether he will play center or guard. That leaves two open spots: left and right guard OR left guard and center, depending on Muller's position.

Offensive Line Depth Chart

Keith Lumpkin LT 6-8, 310 RS SR 26
Dorian Miller LG 6-3, 285 RS SO
Derrick Nelson C 6-3, 290 RS JR
Chris Muller RG 6-6, 300 RS SO 25
J.J. Denman RT 6-6, 300 RS JR
Ryan Brodie OL 6-5, 300 RS JR
Zack Heeman OL 6-7, 270 RS FR
Bryan Stonkus OL 6-4, 250 RS SO
Tariq Cole OL 6-6, 313 RS FR
Marcus Applefield OL 6-6, 290 RS FR
Jacquis Webb OL 6-5, 310 RS FR

Projected starters are in bold.

Dorian Miller, Derrick Nelson and Tariq Cole are all strong candidates for the final two spots on the line. Miller, a four-star left guard out of Metuchen, has impressed coaches this spring, especially with his versatility. Nelson, who backed up Bujari at center last season, figures to be the starter there this season if Muller remains at right guard. If Muller does move to center, then that opens up the right guard position, where Cole, a massive 6-6 and 313 pound road-grader, could step in.

All-in-all, there are a lot of moving parts inside of Lumpkin and Denman. Ryan Brodie is another guy to keep an eye on. Brodie was a highly-touted prospect out of Long Branch, but the powerful guard (Brodie is 6-5 and 300 pounds) has yet to leave up to expectations. The position competition may lead Brodie to improve his game.

The positional versatility of guys like Muller and Miller is a huge asset for Flood and the offense. The Knights were blessed last season, as all five starters remained healthy for the entire season. In a perfect world, that happens again this year, but if the injury bug bites, the Knights have the interchangeable parts to deal with any significant blow (aside from Lumpkin).

In the end, there is enough depth and talent for this group to excel. Lumpkin and Muller are both all-conference caliber players and the guys stepping in were highly-recruited players who have now been in the program for three or four years. The offensive line will have to play well with a young quarterback, and they should be up to the task.

This is the fourth position preview. View previous breakdowns below.