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2023 Rutgers Football Position Preview: Running Backs

The Scarlet Knights have returning depth in the backfield.

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

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 begins with a deep group in the backfield — the running backs.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Temple Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Position Coach: Damiere Shaw

Key Returners: Samuel Brown V, Aaron Young, Kyle Monangai, Al-Shadee Salaam

Key Losses: N/A

Key Newcomers: Ja’Shon Benjamin

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

What Went Well In 2022: Established an identity

Stop us if you’ve heard this before — the Rutgers offense was bad in 2022. Yes, it has been said a lot but it’s never too much when looking at the numbers.

Where the team did not struggle was running the football. There were many games where the Scarlet Knights leaned on the ground game and it went well.

Rutgers was in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten last year, rushing for 128.2 yards per game. Injuries were a problem in 2022 but there is new hope if the unit can remain healthy and give Kirk Ciarrocca plenty of options.

Brown got a chance to showcase his skills in a blowout victory over Wagner, where he carried the ball 12 times and score twice. As the season rolled on, Brown became the focal point of the offense, culminating with a 101-yard, one-touchdown performance against Indiana where he carried the ball 28 times. That would be his final game as he suffered a season-ending foot injury. Once Brown went down, Rutgers did not win a game. Now, this could be a coincidence but the schedule stiffened up in a big way late.

Regardless, Brown returning gives Rutgers a workhorse in the backfield and there are other options that bring depth.

Monangai set a Rutgers record for rushing in the Big Ten with 162 yards against Michigan State. Salaam totaled 57 carries and was a speed option with Young on the shelf. Now, the Scarlet Knights are hoping to have all options available Week 1.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Improvement Needed: Pass catching

Rutgers might have had power and physicality but it did not catch the ball well out of the backfield. There is a chance for all weapons to improve in this area but the return of Young is the major aspect.

The combination of four running backs for the Scarlet Knights had just 20 catches last season. Young had just one catch, an 18-yard touchdown reception, in three games of action. This offseason, Greg Schiano spoke on Young and said he is looking like his old self, which is good news for the offense.

Young finished with 50 catches from 2019-21. He brings a weapon in the passing game and even more speed to the backfield. Rutgers can insert Brown into the passing game more as well if he is going to be the primary back. The last thing Rutgers needs is opposing defenses knowing that Young is in the game and it’s a pass play. Let’s not forget the lack of creativity every time Johnny Langan would lineup to take the snap.

Final Thoughts

The running back room for Rutgers has experience, depth, and versatility. Now, it is time to show it on the field and create some of that versatility within individual players. Brown and Monangai have shown they can be bell cows and take 15+ carries. Young brings pass catching while Salaam might have the most speed of any player.

If the group remains healthy, this will be major help for Wimsatt as he takes over as the starting quarterback.

Other Position Groups

  • Quarterbacks
  • Wide Receivers (Aug. 7)
  • Tight Ends (Aug. 10)
  • Offensive Line (Aug. 14)
  • Defensive Line (Aug. 17)
  • Linebackers (Aug. 21)
  • Secondary (Aug. 24)
  • Special Teams (Aug. 28)