The Rutgers Football season will kick off on Sunday, Sept. 3 at SHI Stadium against Northwestern. Leading up to the season opener, we will be taking a look at each position on the field for the Scarlet Knights.
The series continues with who Rutgers needs to step up to protect a young quarterback — the offensive line.
Position Coach: Pat Flaherty
Key Returners: Hollin Pierce, Ireland Brown, Curtis Dunlap Jr., Mike Ciaffoni, Tyler Needham
Key Losses: J.D. DiRenzo, Willie Tyler III
What Went Well: Depth is improved
This might be the best depth that Greg Schiano has had along the offensive line in his second tenure in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights return three starters from last season in Hollin Pierce, Ireland Brown, and Curtis Dunlap Jr. The only hole would be where they have to replace J.D. DiRenzo, who was the best lineman of the bunch last season.
When looking at options here, it would be Mike Ciaffoni and/or Tyler Needham. Schiano has highlighted Needham as a young option that continues to improve. This could very well be the starting five across the offensive line but depth options include Kobe Asamoah, Gus Zilinskas, Emir Stinette, and Bryan Felter.
Reggie Sutton remains an intriguing piece and a great story. He is returning from a serious knee injury so it is unknown how much and if he will be able to contribute. Before his injury, Sutton was a strong piece along the offensive line but his progress was hindered severely.
Schiano believes there is a group of five that can play together for a majority of snaps this season. This would allow the depth to stay fresh and be used on a needed basis.
Improvement Needed: Consistency
Schiano has not been able to keep a core together for many reasons including injury and inconsistency. The overall strength up front has not been there so Rutgers has had to rotate players in order to keep them fresh.
“What we’ve done is try to mix it up and keep guy fresh,” Schiano said following day one of training camp. “Try to maximize their ability. I’m confident we’re going to have a starting five that play together. I don’t exactly know who that five are going to be but we’ve made improvement there.”
This year, Schiano hopes to have a core play together and use depth when needed. If it has looked like the Scarlet Knights have rotated lineman in and out frequently, it was not a game plan.
“We were never trying to rotate the offensive line,” Schiano said. “That was out of necessity, not preference. I’d love to have five guys that play together all the time. That’s the way you want it to be. Then you have subs that are there in case you have an injury or equipment issue. We haven’t had that.”
If there really is a group that can play together consistently, this would bring improvements to the offense as a whole. For Rutgers, it begins with the quarterback position but follows closely with the offensive line. Not surprisingly, the two work hand-in-hand.
The offensive line has been an area of concern since Schiano returned in 2020. This year, the overall depth and level of returning talent gives some hope. This is needed for the offense to take a step forward overall. The Scarlet Knights created a bit of an identity last season, when healthy, on the ground and that can continue in 2023 as well. In terms of pass protecting, Rutgers needs to protect its young quarterback during his first year as a full-time starter.
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