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Offensive line development key for Rutgers

Greg Schiano made it clear this group is a work in progress.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The success of any offense is contingent upon the play of its offensive line. And the challenge of an offensive line in the Big Ten is to find folks who first and foremost can match the speed and power of defenses they will face almost every Saturday. Equally important is having your offensive line operate as a singular entity-----knowing instinctively what the other members of the line are doing and acting and reacting as a group. Some have described it as the ‘Dance of the Elephants,’ a choreographed movement of organized chaos.

Last year, the Rutgers defensive line played exceptional football while the offensive line was a work in progress, albeit an improving one. How much the offensive line has developed since last fall will go a long way in determining the Scarlet Knights fortunes this fall.

This was echoed by Greg Schiano at Tueday’s press conference. “That is probably the group that is the most up in the air, and I don’t mind saying it. It is going to be a tremendous competition.” Added Schiano: “ “There are much more physically-competent guys than we’ve had before, and some of them are the same guys — they’ve just changed their bodies and really gotten themselves in a position to play the position in the Big Ten. It’s a tough, tough spot to play in the Big Ten. The problem is we need them to be really good now and the offensive line is probably the position that takes the most time to develop.”

With the exception of David Nwaogwugwu, the transfer from Temple and Hollin Pierce the 2nd year player with a ton of potential, the offensive line will be very similar to the group that manned the trenches last season. Below is a comparison of the starting line-up last year against Michigan State versus the projected starting line-up in my opinion for the September 2nd match-up against Temple.

Art Stein

Size matters when it comes to power-five football. Based on a 2019 article from Crescent City Sports, a New Orleans based publication, the average starting offensive lineman was 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds. Per the article, the average height and weight for Big Ten offensive lineman was 6’4″ and 310.7 lbs.

Looking at the projected offensive line for the Scarlet Knight, the average height is 6’4.5” and 309 pounds. Adding in the projected key reserves of Hollin Pierce (6’8”/325), Brendan Bordner (6’5”/315), Bryan Felter (6’3”/315), Sam Vretman (6’6”/300) and CJ Hanson (6’5”/310), the average height and weight is 6’5.4”/313.

As the above demonstrates, any combination of offensive linemen on the field matches up with regard to both size and height with other Big Ten offensive lines. The trick is playing as a cohesive unit and towards that end, most of the Scarlet Knights offensive linemen will have the advantage of a year of playing together and the consistency and stability of the same coaching staff.

Greg Schiano and his coaching staff - primarily offensive line coach Andrew Aurich and offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson will spend training camp refining technique and conditioning while looking at combinations for the regular season. That’ll continue in training camp. “Our goal is to put the best five offensive linemen out on the field opening night,” Schiano said Friday at Big Ten media days in Indianapolis. “So certain guys give us position flexibility and we’ll move them around to create the best five. It really is kind of like a Rubik’s Cube.

The OL will be led by Nick Krimin who is returning for his sixth season. In 2019, Krimin started every game at right tackle. Last season, Krimin moved over to center and arguably was Rutgers most consistent offensive linemen. “Nick is someone that gives us some position flexibility inside,” Greg Schiano said. “He has been moved. He’s been getting work at guard, and he’s been getting some work at center.”

One of the more interesting players along the OL is Hollin Pierce. Pierce who is listed at 6’8 and 325 pounds bringing exceptional height and long arms to the OL. Pierce walked on to the team prior to the 2020 season and made an impression right away. “He’s a very big man who’s very athletic,” Schiano said on Pierce. “He’s young. He’s inexperienced but we’re trying to get him experienced as fast as we can because he’s got a great deal of potential. Really a great guy to have on our team. A pleasant guy and he goes very hard. He’s got a great future.”

While some Scarlet Knight fans believe the offensive line is a major concern as the Temple game grows closer, the size, experience and coaching are all in place. It is now just a question of fitting the right pieces together.