There weren’t too many surprises when head coach Greg Schiano released the depth chart on Monday ahead of this weekend’s season opener. However, a notable development for Rutgers was that three true freshman are listed on the two deep for Saturday’s game at Michigan State.
Schiano explained simply that “I look at it as whoever gives us the best chance to win, they are going to be on the depth chart. If it’s a freshman, it is a freshman.”
Offensively, guard Bryan Felter was listed as the backup for returning starter Nick Krimin, while tackle Tunde Fatukasi was listed as backup for returning starter Raiqwon O’Neal. Establishing stability along the offensive line is a major priority entering this season, as former starters Mike Maetti, Kamaal Seymour and Mike Londsdorf need to be replaced. Although having two true freshmen on the depth chart speaks to a lack of experience along the line, both newcomers have the size to compete from day one. Felter is listed at 6’3” and 299 pounds, while Fatukasi is listed at 6’4” and 298 pounds. This position group has been a weak spot for an offense that has averaged under 14 points per game the previous two seasons, so injecting this unit with new blood is a necessary part of the process for improvement.
On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Max Melton is listed as the backup to Tre Avery. The defense is loaded with experience, as Melton is the only non-junior or senior included on the two deep. The secondary has a chance to be one of the better units on the team, led by Ohio State transfer Brendon White, two year starter Avery Young and returning starter Christian Izien, along with Avery. Having Melton make the two deep adds speed to a group that needs to build depth this season. Having the opportunity to learn from a solid group of starters gives Melton a good situation to begin his career in.
Regarding the three freshmen making the two deep, Schiano made it clear competition is the root to the decisions made. “We’ve just tried to have as many opportunities for guys to show what they can do. Certainly when you are a freshman, you start in whatever is the lowest team is (4th team). When a guy makes plays, you raise his level.” He added, “If he continues to make plays and does his job consistently, he keeps climbing. Some of those freshmen, it’s all a relative experience. It’s relative to the other guys on the roster. They are there for a reason, they’ve earned it.”
One thing that stands out for all three freshmen that made the two deep for the season opener is that each have some built-in continuity established coming into their first year with the program. Fatukasi and Melton are the younger brothers of two senior starters in linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi and receiver Bo Melton. Having a close relationship with those upperclassmen that have endured a lot in their careers certainly helps in preparing for their own. For Felter, he played for tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile in his high school career at Bergen Catholic, so having a mentor nearby to help guide him can only help in his development.
Of course, at the end of the day, all three freshmen will have to continue to prove themselves on the field this season to remain on the two deep. Schiano bluntly said, “Nobody around here gets any gifts. If you are on the depth chart in the 1 or 2 position, you’ve earned it.” Hopefully for Rutgers, all three players continue to grow and develop as the season progresses, which will benefit the program in the long run as well.