Rutgers Football: Offensive Line Gets Reshuffled, Team Has New Hope for Success
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano has decided to reshuffle his team's offensive line in an attempt to stop the self-declared "Epidemic" that has infected the Scarlet Knights offense.
The Rutgers offensive line has given up 33 sacks in seven games, and before its bye week, the line ranked last in the entire FBS in sacks allowed.
So far quarterback Tom Savage has been injured twice due to the inability of the line to protect him. Even freshman phenom quarterback Chas Dodd, who seemed to just shrug off pressure and 14 sacks from UConn and Army, was eventually rattled.
Against Pittsburgh Dodd was sacked six times, almost all in crucial situations that resulted in either 3rd-and-long or 4th-and-long.
To try and solve this problem, the Rutgers offensive line has undergone some big changes.
Right tackle Art Forst was moved to left guard after showing that he wasn't quick or athletic enough to play the tackle position. Forst has been beat repeatedly on speed rushes this season. In Rutgers' game against Pitt, Forst let Panthers defensive end Jabaal Sheard blow past him three times for drive-killing sacks.
In the past two seasons, though, 6'8", 311-pound Forst excelled at both guard positions. He'll provide good protection on the left side, along with left tackle Desmond Stapleton.
Although incumbent left guard Desmond Wynn wasn't doing too badly at left guard, he'll slide over to right guard to provide a solution to the ongoing struggles of the rotating right guards, Caleb Ruch and Antwan Lowery. Ruch and Lowery will serve as the new backups at left and right guard.
The right tackle spot vacated by Forst will now be manned by senior tackle Devon Watkis. Watkis started off this season as left tackle Desmond Stapleton's backup. He has played some at right and left tackle in the last two games, but he'll get his first start against South Florida.
Oddly, the two spots that had the most uncertainty going into this season have been the most consistent performers for the Scarlet Knights.
Many were unsure how left tackle Desmond Stapleton would go about replacing former star Anthony Davis, who was drafted at No. 11 overall by the 49ers last NFL draft. Stapleton did give up a few sacks against Pitt, but he played most of that game with an injury, and has provided good protection when healthy.
Center Howard Barbieri had to replace the longtime anchor of the Rutgers' offensive line, Ryan Blaszcyck. Barbieri struggled mightily with his snaps early on in the season, fumbling eight snaps in the first five games. Recently, he's improved on his shotgun snaps.
Taking over at the backup left tackle spot will be either Hofstra transfer Matt McBride or converted defensive tackle Andre Civil, who Schiano has said is getting closer to being game ready. Both Barbieri and Stapleton will benefit with better players at the guard position, and the overall play of the offensive line should improve.
In 2008 Rutgers got off to a 1-5 start due to the horrendous play of the offensive line, which resulted in the struggles of then-senior quarterback Mike Teel. Midway through the season the coaches reshuffled the offensive line, and Mike Teel had ample time in the pocket to pick apart defenses.
Rutgers went on to win seven straight games and finish 8-5, an improbable finish given the circumstances faced at midseason.
Will there be similar success this time around?
"We didn't get here overnight, we're not going to get out of it overnight," Schiano said when asked about the future of his offensive line. "It's going to take a lot of hard work, but we'll get it improved."
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