It’s not exactly breaking news to say that the offensive line of Rutgers struggled quite a bit last season. That was just one of the many reasons that Rutgers had one of the worst offenses in college football in 2016. However, one major positive to come from last season was the play at left tackle from Tariq Cole. Considering he hadn’t started a game before last season, it’s safe to say the former 3-star recruit more than delivered, as he became one of the best lineman in the Big Ten.
His consistency in performing at a high level did not go unnoticed. Pro Football Focus, one of the best analysis sites out there, rated Cole as the most underrated player in the Big Ten towards the end of last season. They also called Cole “the Big Ten’s best blindside protector.” The head coaches in the conference took notice too, voting Cole as an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten last season. I’d argue that was actually too low of a recognition for Cole, but that’s what happens when your team goes 2-10.
The challenge for Cole now is to become the true anchor and leader for the Rutgers offensive line for the 2017 season. According to offensive line coach A.J. Blazek, the redshirt junior made significant strides this past spring:
"Tariq, he's made a big jump. Having a full season, the offseason, has really made a difference helping him detail a lot of his craft.”
“He's gotten his body right and he has all the intangibles. Now he's gotta go play, he's got to carry himself like a pro, he's got to train like a pro. He's doing a lot of that."
Those are the type of comments you love to hear from the coaching staff. The 6’6”, 320 pound left tackle has a ton of potential and the fact that he is working to make the most of his talent should be music to the ears of Rutgers fans. Hopefully, Cole will eventually star in the NFL, but for now, let’s hope for truly dominant play from him next season.
Pro Football Focus tweeted this past week that Cole is the top pass blocker of all Big Ten lineman returning for the 2017 season. That is an impressive stat for sure.
The Big 10's best returning pass-blocking tackle is none other than Rutgers T Tariq Cole. pic.twitter.com/PFTFSBPTVy— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 29, 2017
This only adds to increased expectations for Cole, who was listed as a preseason All-Big Ten Second Team selection by Lindy’s and Third Team by Athlon Sports.
With new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill in place, there is legitimate hope Rutgers will be much improved this season. The program has added several grad transfers that could have a major impact on the offense, including Louisville transfer QB Kyle Bolin, who we spoke with here shortly after he committed. With Janarion Grant returning from injury and a solid stable of running backs returning, led by Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, Kill certainly has some weapons to work with. However, the offensive line is critical in the improvement and development of the offense overall.
Returning starters Dorian Miller and Kamaal Seymour, along with the potential of younger players like Jonah Jackson, make this a group that could make major strides in 2017. There is no doubt that whatever progress the offensive line make this coming season, Tariq Cole manning the most important position for the unit gives them more than just stability, but rather, a true star in the making.