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2021 Rutgers Football Position Preview: Offensive Line

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The big men up front for the Scarlet Knights could be much improved this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Nebraska at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rutgers’ Football is winding down training camp and it is beginning to feel like a normal year. The Scarlet Knights were able to get through Spring ball and into late summer practices for the first time since 2019. This is a good sign for a team looking to continue to improve upon a 2020 season that saw them finish with three victories in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights will open the season against Temple on Sept. 2.

This preview series will take you through each position group and examine strengths and weaknesses of the team heading into the season.

We continue here with the offensive line.

Position coach: Andrew Aurich

Key players returning: Raiqwon O’Neal, Nick Krimin, Reggie Sutton, Cedrice Paillant, Sam Vretman, Brendan Bordner, Bryan Felter

Key newcomers: David Nwaogwugwu (Temple transfer)

What they did well in 2020: Depth

Rutgers has its entire offensive line returning this season and is given even more of a boost with Nwaogwugwu thrown into the mix. Depth, continuity, and experience — these are three extremely important things for an offensive line and Rutgers has them all heading into the season.

It begins with O’Neal and Krimin. O’Neal has been a staple at left tackle for the Scarlet Knights. They also received a boost when Krimin decided to return for a sixth season. In 2019, Krimin started every game at right tackle and shifted to center for the 2020 season. Paillant appeared in every game last season and made seven starts at left guard. Sutton has transitioned from a tight end and has done it flawlessly along the offensive line.

The right tackle position can be handled in many ways. Nwaogwugwu will compete for a job along with Vretman and Bordner. In total, the Scarlet Knights return seven offensive lineman who made starts last season and this is not including the Temple transfer. The offensive line was a bit of a surprise last season and with the entire group back, they have a chance to continue to improve in 2021.

Needs Improvement: Run game/Inside zone

The Big Ten has a reputation of tough lines on both sides of the ball. The Scarlet Knights might have performed above expectations last season but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The areas to focus on are the run game and inside zone.

Rutgers ranked 10th in the Big Ten with 140.3 rushing yards per contest in 2020. Isaih Pacheco rushed for 515 yards on 116 carries in nine games last season. He is a candidate to have a breakout season because of the improved offensive line. Noah Vedral also took a bit of a beating last season. This was sometimes his own fault but the Scarlet Knights allowed 21 sacks last season, which equaled 2.3 per contest. Rutgers runs a fast-paced offense that allows Vedral to use his legs but he still needs some time to get the ball downfield. This also allows receivers to run their full routes.

If the quarterback is the most important position on a football team, the entire offensive line is a close second. It is a huge boost for a team if they can give their quarterback some extra time and open holes for the running backs. The Scarlet Knights have some key players back that can help the line take the next step.

What to Expect in 2021

It is fair to expect an improved line this year once again. Vedral is back, Sean Gleeson is back, and the entire offensive line is back. This is good news for a football team.

O’Neal is going to take his usual spot at left tackle along with Krimin at center. He adapted to the position well and is the best option for the team moving forward. Paillant and Sutton could potentially hold down each guard position. The offensive line’s biggest question appears to be at right tackle and Nwaogwugwu seems to have the most upside.

If this is the lineup, there is great depth on the bench and this is an advantage. Schiano has said multiple times this month that rotating lineman throughout the early part of the season is possible. In terms of injuries and other unforeseen circumstances, the offensive line is unpredictable. It is important to have an experienced group back with depth behind them.

Final Thoughts

The entire offensive line has great size and they have been working to get bigger and stronger. There is no replacement for actual contact, whether it is on the field or in the weight room. A normal offseason is an advantage for the entire team but the offensive line needs that competition on the field and in the weight room. There are certain things that can make a team better automatically. In the NFL, it is the a team improves a position in free agency. That team is better right away. In college, it can be the addition of an elite recruiting class or the return of key players from the year before. The Scarlet Knights have returning depth and the non-conference schedule will be a great opportunity to improve ahead of Big Ten play.

Other Position Groups

Special Teams

Tight End