Schiano, Sanu, Savon and Scott (Vallone): A Rutgers 2011 Season Preview

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Schiano, Sanu, Savon and Scott (Vallone): A Rutgers 2011 Season Preview
Coming soon to a defensive line near you!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

Is it just me, or does it feel like this Rutgers football season has been a long time coming? 

I don't know if it has to do with the NFL lockout all summer, or maybe the fact that if you pretend hard enough that a 4-8 season didn't happen, it actually FEELS like you haven't played football for two whole years.  So a double-dose of good news—my pretending skills are apparently in fine shape, and football kicks off NEXT THURSDAY.  Color me excited.

 

BASKETBALL!!!

I will try to keep this brief.  Since our last update (in mid-February, 2011 NSD Roundup), we lost incoming hoops recruit Mike Taylor (6'3" SG) to grades, but Coach Rice went right out and signed one of the best available combo guards out there in the 6'2" Elijah Carter. 

First and foremost, the kid can SHOOT—which is great, because other than true sophomore Austin Carroll, who averaged a whopping 10 minutes a game last year, we really don't have anyone that will put a scare into opposing defenses just by hanging out by the 3-point line. 

Carter is a versatile guard, and he looks like the best "playground" player on the court when he attacks.  So while he does have a nice shot, he's also a bit of a garbage player on his drives—but that's meant both positively and affectionately. 

Sanu should be back at full strength

 

He just finds a way to put the ball in the basket.  Like any good combo guard, he's got the handle, the shot, the defense, he can drive, dish, take it to the tin, the guy does it all.  But while he has that playground game, he also has the playground mechanics to go along with it—and that is meant neither positively nor affectionately. 

So while the results can be good, it's not always pretty. He's a right handed shooter, and I'm pretty sure he actually touches the ball to his left shoulder during his shot. 

The other guy we picked up this offseason is the Kansas State transfer, 6'9" power forward Wally Judge.  Now this kid... THIS kid is extremely intriguing to me. 

Coming out of high school, he was a Top 20 player overall.  OVERALL!!!  He had the requisite string of top-tier offers, and his game was just bursting with athleticism.  However, after 2 years at K-State, he was largely a non-factor in the box score.  A bit odd, to be sure. 

Since transferring to RU, he has been playing with most of his Rutgers teammates in the Jersey Shore Basketball League this summer, and the good news is that he is indeed an insane athlete - he will win our MidKnight Madness Dunk Contest with ease. 

The bad news seems to be stuff like: “he started off the summer playing lazy”, “ playing sloppy”, that “he has bad hands”, “bad footwork” or some combination of all of these issues that has factored into his less-than-stellar KSU career. 

 

So there’s some drizzle on my parade.  Judge and Coach Rice will need to make good use of this transfer redshirt year to work on those problematic aspects of his game. 

We’ll see how this all plays out, but there is definite and legitimate potential here. 

He's an agile big man who drives, and he will bring an explosive game to complement our more methodical bigs like Biruta and the other frontline newcomers Jack, Randall, and Lewis.  And it never hurts to add that sort of athleticism and size to our frontcourt. 

As far as the team goes, I do like that most of the team is playing together this summer, which will give them a feel for each other and, hopefully, some semblance of chemistry before the fall.  They started out the JSBL summer circuit slowly (VERY slowly, 0-3), but finished at 5-5, including a heartbreaker loss to the top seed in the playoffs, 100-103, so they're definitely making some headway and improving. 

I'm hearing good things about the new frontline, particularly that Derrick Randall is embracing the dirty work down low and pulling down rebounds like it's his job. 

I'm hearing that Austin Johnson has really worked on his offensive game and could be a much improved player this season. 

 

And I'm hearing that Malick Kone might be this year's Mike Poole—a guy that didn't generate as much excitement as some of the more highly regarded recruits, but has a body that's ready for the Big East and can do so much right on the court while not necessarily excelling in any particular area. 

All in all, though, we lost basically half of our scoring, assists, minutes and rebounding from last year's team to graduation, and trot out a VERY green team (6 freshman, ZERO SENIORS expected to play significant minutes) although a talented one.  I’m excited to see this team develop this year, but any sort of postseason appearance would be gravy.   

 

FANFEST!!!

 I think next year my plan is to bring my nephew to Fan Fest because my own “Creepy Loser” detector starts beeping as soon as I wake up on Fan Fest Day.  I’ve always known how creepy the whole thing sounded to other people, but this year, for whatever reason, I felt really creepy to MYSELF. 

I think I’d feel a lot better with a 5 year old there to take the heat off.  As per my usual routine, I spent most of my time checking in on the newcomers, freshmen and sophomore who have yet to see much of the field, and at least 3 of the true freshmen really put a smile on my face.  (You see?  You see how creepy that sounds?)

 

Kaleb Johnson:  I know, I know, nobody gets excited about offensive linemen like I do.  But this is a true freshman who basically gave his written and verbal commitment at the exact same time, ON National Signing Day when NOBODY, not Rutgers, not his high school coaches, NOBODY thought he’d pick us . . . and he’s already on the two-deep for his first college game. 

Yeah, that was a big signing.  To toot my own horn a bit (I might do this thrice today, by the way), I named him “Most Underrated” on NSD ‘11.  He’s been on campus since the beginning of the summer, and from all reports, is physically ready to play the position TODAY—rare in general, but especially on the offensive line.  And he definitely LOOKS the part.  TGfKJ. 

Brandon Coleman:  Schiano has openly admitted his regret about redshirting the lanky receiver, but now he looks filled out and ready to feast upon jump balls in the corner of the endzone. 

Remember when Brian Leonard took yoga classes in the offseason as a way to supplement his regular workouts and add some flexibility?  Well, Brandon has added his own little offseason routine to improve his footwork: tap dancing. 

So while I hope it helps his game, it also cements his place as my girlfriend’s favorite player.  I won’t pretend to understand why, but I know this much - chicks like guys who can dance.  Fact. 

 

 

Savon Huggins:  Normally, I go to the freshman because there are no lines, and you can actually exchange a pleasantry or two before feeling hurried along, but this year, the longest line by FAR was for Savon. 

Like Kaleb Johnson, Savon has been on campus since the beginning of the summer, and I have to admit that he looks bigger than I thought he would, both taller and more built than expected.  He also tore it up in the first scrimmage.  Believe the hype. 

Al Page:  Big dude.  Now that’s what a defensive tackle is supposed to look like.  I don’t quite think he’s going to be ready to go this year, but he does look SOLID. 

Max Issaka:  I try not to bother the guys too much at Fan Fest (again, I understand my own creepiness—self awareness is what separates us from the apes), I normally just say “hi”, wish them luck and move on.  But Mr. Issaka smiled, extended his hand, so I took it and shook it.  And without actually breaking the delicate bones in my hands, he communicated that exact scenario was distinctly possible if he only wished it so. This dude is S-T-R-O-N-G. 

Myles Jackson:  It is hard not to root for Myles Jackson. 

The guy is polite as can be, well spoken, and humble.  But when I look at him, he doesn’t look anywhere close to being ready to step on a college football field. 

 

Well, MJ may be this year is Quron Pratt's—a guy that doesn’t look the part to me, but is earning rave reviews in practice.  When starting DE Manny Abreu sat out a few practices with an injury, Myles popped right onto the depth chart and has looked great in practice, ahead of veterans and more highly touted recruits. 

So while I’m sure he will benefit from some added weight in the future, we might see some quality burn for him this year.  

 

Ben Martin:  Tooting my own horn again—NSD ’11.  Ben Martin means business.  He does not smile.  Not on Signing Day.  Not on Fan Fest Day. He is all business. 

Mark Harrison:  Okay, so he’s a true junior, and he’s already entrenched himself as a starter, so you already know Mark Harrison.  I know this. 

But I've got to tell you... he looks swollen up.  A lot of times receivers have that long lean look (see:  Coleman, Brandon) and that works just fine. 

Harrison looks like a truck now. 

When he first committed to Rutgers, there was some talk about moving him inside to TE but Schiano said then that he would make a great receiver, and he was right. 

 

That said, he might make a killer tight end, creating mismatches left and right, turning a position of weakness into one of strength, and opening a receiver spot for another of our talented outside playmakers.  I’m just saying, if you’re going to spend your year putting more speed on the field on the defensive side of the ball, this might be something you’d want to take a look at.   

Miles Shuler:  If there’s a redshirt controversy this year, it will likely involve Miles Shuler. 

Just looking at him, he looks like a prime candidate for a redshirt and 365 days of strength and conditioning.  That said, it sounds like he just can’t stop playing his way onto the field. 

From the 73 yard punt return in the scrimmage to the 68 yard touchdown reception (albeit against our 3rd team D), Miles Shuler MAKES PLAYS.  The biggest thing keeping him off the field is the fact that he played quarterback in high school (it's quite common in high school to just put your best athlete at QB) and is still basically brand new to the receiver spot. 

That said, his athleticism should give him an advantage, even at the college level.  So the big question is: “can he crack a deep and veteran-laden depth chart?”  His speed would be a terrific change-up to our larger pass catchers and could create some serious mismatches.  He could also be a game-changer on return teams.  So we’ll see.

 

 

BACK TO FOOTBALL!!!!

Change is abound in the Hub City. 

Gone are Neubie's and Little Teddy's sub shop (although they are still on Google Maps street view if you hurry!!) only to be replaced by a ginormous "Gateway to New Brunswick" luxury center, 20 stories tall, and all brass and glass. 

The football field we once knew as Rutgers Stadium has been given a flashy, if not straight-from-the-Turnpike-Plaza-business-park, moniker, so we can officially press the reset button as we have yet to lose a game at Highpoint Solutions Stadium. 

But change has also found its way to the football team this offseason, in both on and off field personnel.  First and foremost, we have Pitt's former offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, which I like for two reasons. 

One, he was not our offensive coordinator last year which, by definition, makes him an improvement.  And two, he runs a PRO STYLE OFFENSE. 

Now, I'm not necessarily averse to the wave of spread variant offenses sweeping the nation, or even the Pistol or the West Coast (a tip o' the cap in Terry Shea's general direction). 

But, man, show up with a plan of some sort, not that stuff we rolled with last year.  And do NOT bring that Wildcat formation out on the field for more than 2 plays a game.  It hurts my soul. 

 

So we are going to be back running a pro set, which is nice—but I also like the wrinkles Cignetti integrates into his pro offenses: getting the fullback involved, using the tight ends, etc.  So expect traditional, but not boring, and Lord Almighty, expect an IMPROVED offense. 

We've also made some pretty significant on-field changes as well.  Our team's leading rusher from 2009 (Joe Martinek) and our team's leading rusher in 2010 (Jordan Thomas) are both still on the team... but both have moved to entirely new positions. 

I mean, we're talking wholesale changes here!  Receivers moved to running back, running backs moved to fullback and cornerback, cornerbacks moved to the safety spot, safeties moved to the linebacker spot, linebackers moved to the defensive end spot, defensive ends moved to the defensive tackle spot, and defensive tackles moved to the O-line. 

It's the circle of life, Rutgers football style.  Most of those changes were made in an effort to maximize the talent and the speed on the field, so we should be a very different team this fall... and, yeah, that's a good thing. 

 

The Offense

I’m going to try to not get too excited here.  Offensively, we set the bar pretty low last year, so anything resembling a competent offense will be a massive improvement. 

 

Thus far, the reports out of camp have been VERY positive, but I’m going to temper my enthusiasm.  Overall, yes, we should be better.  Remember last year when I said how extremely young we were on offense?  Well, we were.  And unbelievably enough, we are STILL young at the skill positions.  In fact, our current eligibility distribution at the skill spots is:

QB – 2 FR, 1 SO, 0 JR, 0 SR

TE – 1 FR, 3 SO, 1 JR, 0 SR

RB – 3 FR, 1 SO, 1 JR, 0 SR

WR – 4 FR, 2 SO, 3 JR, 0 SR

So you are essentially looking at your 2011 AND your 2012 offense—barring any early NFL draft departures, a possibility for both Sanu and Mark Harrison. 

So that’s still a young team, but at least we’re getting some starters with seniority.  I will admit that I get a little giddy when I look at the depth chart at both WR and RB, although I’m a bit lost as to just how we plan on getting all these guys touches, particularly Deering.  Okay, on to the grades...

 

 

QB - Grade:  C+

December 29th, 2008.  Rutgers defeats NC State 29-23.  That's the last time we had a quality senior quarterback start a game for us. 

Since then, it’s been a hodgepodge of inexperienced transfers (Natale), out-of-position quarterbacks (Sanu/Deering), but predominantly, we have relied upon true freshmen for our last 25 games. 

It’s not supposed to work that way.  You are supposed to redshirt your quarterbacks and let them get a year or two of understudy and practice under their belts before sending them out to face opposing defenses. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't get much better this year.  The starter by default will be Chas Dodd, an undersized but gritty true sophomore who, again, is 15 months removed from his high school prom.

Chas throws a great deep ball and has decent mobility—and a penchant for holding onto the ball too long.  This could, however, be attributed to last year’s sieve of an offensive line. 

I saw flashes of brilliance from Chas (UConn, Cincy) and flashes of, well, being a freshman quarterback.  He'll have to show a lot more consistency to get the job done and prove he is a better-than-average Big East quarterback. 

 

He’s a smart quarterback, though, and I think he’s going to show a fair amount of improvement himself, not to mention being helped by the upgrades to just about every position surrounding him. 

After Chas, we (again!!!) have two true freshman, Gary Nova and Mike Bimonte, and at least one of them should see some action on September 1st. This is our 3rd straight year with a true freshman quarterback seeing action from Game 1, and our second straight year being a missed block away from having to go with them for the rest of the year. 

The C+ is not an indictment of Chas, but of lack of development, experience and depth at this spot.   We have TWELVE MONTHS OF EXPERIENCE at arguably the most crucial position on the field!!! 

One to watch:  Gary Nova.  Both Chas Dodd and Nova came from two of the premier high school programs in the nation (Byrnes in SC, and Don Boso in NJ, respectively).  Chas adjusted well to the college level, so it will be interesting to see how Gary responds to not consistently having a superior supporting cast around him. 

 

WR - Grade:  A+

Easiest grade of the day.  I am THRILLED with how our receivers are stacking up. 

 

We pretty much run the gamut as far as experience, size, speed and story lines are concerned. 

We start with Mo Sanu, the established, proven, do-it-all workhorse veteran who’s receiving numbers suffered last year because he spent much of his time manning the quarterback / running back / punting duties and nursing a nagging injury. 

This year, he should be back at the WR spot full time, so I expect him to bounce back in a big way.  Mark Harrison gives us the prototypical WR, tall and fast, a high-potential veteran who exploded onto the scene last year to lead the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (more than FOUR TIMES the TDs of the next highest receiver). 

In Brandon Coleman we have the physically imposing, regretfully-redshirted 6’6” beast just waiting to be unleashed. 

We have the feel-good story of the season in Tim Wright: a redemption-hungry veteran that was earning rave reviews in camp last year before enduring a season-ending injury. He also lit it up in the first scrimmage this year with two touchdowns. 

We have the coveted high-profile Army All-American recruit in Miles Shuler, who appears ready to shred opposing defenses. 

We have glue guys like Quron Pratt and JT Tartacoff, guys who have just gotten their feet wet who may yet surprise us with their ability. 

 

Apparently, the staff feels so comfortable with our depth here that they plucked arguably our 3rd best receiver in Jeremy Deering and switched him to running back in an effort to maximize the talent on the field.  Given the talent we have on the outsides, I can't really disagree with them.  The best part about it?  We STILL don't have any seniors in this group.  

One to watch:  Brandon Coleman.  Remember how it took Kenny Britt until halfway through his freshman year to really come into his own?  Think Kenny Britt halfway through his freshman year.  

 

RB - Grade:  B+

The running back spot is kind of like the Bizarro wide receiver spot this year.  Equal potential, equal possibilities, equal story  lines... but with almost nothing to back it up on the field. 

In fact, just to underscore our un-provenness, our TWO leading rushers from this position last year, Joe Martinek and Jordan Thomas, have BOTH switched positions to fullback and cornerback, respectively, so we are really looking at a totally fresh crop of faces here. 

We have one of the most dynamic athletes on our team in converted receiver and true soph Jeremy Deering.  We have the prep-star extraordinaire who has already demonstrated his value to the team in in Savon Huggins. 

 

We have a highly-recruited veteran who never quite met expectations but is now ready to make his mark in De'Antwan Williams.  We have the spring football superstar in Jawan Jamison. 

Heck, we have a bruising freshman walk-on that is bulldozing his way through our 3rd team defense in Paul James.  (I have a special place in my heart for walk-on running backs.  These guys love football.) 

So we have plenty of options at the position. 

Heck, we’ve got change-of-pace backs for our change of pace backs.  But unlike the WR spot, we can only put one running back on the field at a time, and at this point, it is anybody's guess who that will be. 

I can’t imagine we would move a guy as talented as Deering to run him 5 times a game.  I can’t imagine we’d hand the ball to Huggins only in mop-up situations, particularly after his 26 carries and 126 yards in the first scrimmage. 

But from what I know, Williams is running with the ones for now (good for De’!)  and enjoying at least some success. 

But OC Cignetti found a way to fit both Ray Graham and Dion Lewis into the same backfield, and if I had to guess, I would think De’Antwan and Huggins will get the lion's share of the carries as the year goes on with Deering providing some trickery in the backfield and the slot. 

 

De’ has really earned his burn. I love the versatility that Deering provides as a receiver out of the backfield, and I think Schiano knows how important it is to keep Savon happy.  Whatever works, man.  Whatever works. 

One to watch: Jeremy Deering.  I think he might take on a hybrid role here, a la Percy Harvin, and will be very difficult to game-plan against.  However, he’s been a little banged up through the summer, so there’s a chance we won’t see the “Deering, Jeremy” chapter of the playbook until later this season.

 

Fullback - Grade: B+

There is some strong potential here. 

The “Martinek to FB” experiment has been tried before, but the move looks to be permanent this year. 

While I don’t think Joe possesses the size to be an absolute beast as a blocker here, he is at least adequate.  One of the primary reasons we’ve leaned on him so heavily the last couple of years when flashier RB options were available is that Joe provided solid blocking when our offensive line and other backs did not. 

 

He also provides a slew of possibilities as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield, so it’s not like he’s fading away into obscurity.  Redshirt sophomore walk-on Michael Burton is also having a fairly impressive summer, so I like what we have here.

 

TE - Grade:  C+

Like the quarterback spot, I’m not particularly pleased with our depth or development at tight end. 

We have 4 tight ends listed on the roster, and one of them is a true freshman (Tyler Kroft).  Neither Malcolm Bush nor Carrezola has shown much in game situations, although I do think Carrezola does a decent job of blocking. 

Former 4-star quarterback DC Jefferson has a world of potential at the spot, and at 6’7”, should give Chas a nice target in an offense which makes better use of the tight end than one where the “quarterback” barrels ahead for 3 yards and a bruised clavicle. 

I actually expect decent things from Carrezola and Jefferson (who is entering just his second full year of playing the position and has all of the physical tools to be dominant), but I am trying to manage my expectations. 

Again, if the production isn’t there, I wouldn’t be totally averse to giving Mark Harrison some reps.  The guy looks VERY solid this year. He would be a ridiculous receiving tight end, and would allow us to put another of our talented receivers/backs on the field.  I have no idea if he would be an able blocker, though.   

 

One to watch:  Paul Carrezola.  Similar to the way we leaned on Martinek for his blocking ability, I think Carrezola might get more PT because of his blocking ability, and he could surprise us with some short catches turned into long gains. 

 


OL - Grade: C-

You hear that, Coach Flood?  That’s a C-!  That’s AVERAGE!  I gave you an AVERAGE grade, which is about two grades higher than pure merit should allow. 

I don’t know what sort of a twisted joke the football gods are playing on this guy, setting him up for a 2006 season where his line allowed the fewest sacks IN THE COUNTRY, and then dragging him down to the depths of 2010 where his unit allowed the most sacks in the country.. EVER. 

So the “A” from ’06 and the “F” of 2010 average out to a “C”.  The minus is tacked on for the “most sacks EVER” part. 

The bad news:  JUCO newcomer and probable starter Dallas Hendrickson is already out for the year leaving RS sophomore David Osei at the center spot.  Osei is having a strong spring, but the reason we got a JUCO center in the first place was for our lack of depth here (which is exactly why I clamor for more offensive linemen every February, but instead, we can’t figure which combination of our hyper-talented WRs and RBs to put on the field). 

 

I’m also not sure how I feel about our starting tackle being Andre Civil, a converted defensive end.  He’s long and I like his footspeed, but he still seems undersized. 

The GOOD news:  I feel that Antwan Lowery could be a revelation this year.  I think he’s got all the skills, he’s no longer timid, and he’s got a little mean streak going. 

Overall, the unit should benefit from both an influx of talent and the new offensive philosophy.  We actually have decent depth throughout the 2-deep, so we might have “average” players, but at least we have plenty of them! 

Mainly, it’s about putting together a cohesive line that can actually be effective.  Oh, and by the way, an “average” offensive line could get us to 8 or 9 wins this year. 

One to watch:  That’s Kaleb Johnson.  I said it on NSD ’11 – Thank GOD for Kaleb Johnson.  This guy came in as a true freshman and is already physically ready to play, he’s just trying to get the playbook down.  He’s already on the 2-deep and could be entrenched as a starter for the next 3 years. I TOLD YOU.

 

The Defense

 

The name of the defensive game this offseason was "speed". 

Just about every move we made (and continue to make) was with the intention of maximizing the ability to close on the ball, close on the receiver, or close on the quarterback.  We had linebackers move up to the defensive end spot (Abreu), safeties move up to the linebacker spot (Greene), and corners move over to the safety spot (Rowe)—all in the name of getting more speed on the field. 

This is actually an oft exploited and super annoying tactic on EA Sports’ NCAA football game as well, so I will have to keep a lookout for the gamertag ShiaKnozBezt.  The upside, of course, is that you have a defense that flies to the ball, can cover well, and can hopefully get to the quarterback. 

The downside is that with additional speed comes a commensurate loss in size or bulk, which means that power-running teams will smashmouth the snot out of you (another theory proven in NCAA 2011). 

Another downside is that when you’re trying to write a season preview and the coaching staff is still making major position changes with a week left in camp, it makes your life a lot harder, but that’s more of a personal thing. 

The good news?  A lot of our opponents have moved to versions of the spread offense, and we should FINALLY be better prepared to defend them.  Gone are the days when we would trot out a traditional 4-3 defense against a 5-wide set... or at least I hope so.  

 

Also, because of these moves, you're going to hear me say 'undersized but very quick at his position—because that seems to have become the mantra for our defense this offseason.  I expect a noticeable statistical improvement from our defense if only because an improved offense should make sure our D isn’t on the field for 75% of the game again. 

 

Defensive line – Grade: B+

There is so much shifting on the defensive line, I can’t even break out the ends from the tackles for this. The only sure thing is the rock-solid All-Big East caliber junior Scott Vallone is going to be at defensive tackle. 

After that, it’s a bit of a crapshoot as Schiano is notorious for taking ends and moving them inside to try to regain some of that interior quickness we once had with Foster and Meekins. 

The latest two candidates (and most likely to end up alongside Vallone) would be defensive end converts Justin Francis and Michael Larrow.  I expect to see Francis on the inside at tackle, but if not, I would expect to see him on the outside opposite Abreu. 

At this point, it’s really anyone’s guess who the backups are going to be, but the youngsters I would be least surprised about seeing are DT Kenneth Kirksey and DE Djwany Mera (both of whom prepped), DE Marvin Booker and, supposedly, true frosh DE Myles Jackson has been excellent off the edge thus far (easy kid to root for, by the way).  

 

To further muddy the waters, Ka’Lial Glaud has now been tried at the fullback, inside linebacker, outside linebacker and now defensive end spot.  So while Vallone is the key cog in the d-line, and a formidable one, the rest of the line is filled out by question marks.  Let’s hope they are capable ones. 

One to watch:  Myles Jackson.  Honestly, the guy looked downright slender to me, but the word is that he has been VERY difficult to block in practice.  Might be a passing-situation specialist this year, and then bulk up into a full time end in the future?  Heck, with the uncertainty at the end spot, he could become a starter next year.  I didn’t see THAT coming.    

 

Linebackers – Grade B

I was optimistic about the linebacking corps heading into spring ball, and after those practices wrapped up, it looked like my optimism had been warranted.   

After they had spent much of the spring darting into the offensive backfield, the promising duo of Greene and Beauharnais looked as though they would be very dangerous as outside backers.

Meanwhile, Ka’Lial Glaud looked like he was born to play the MIKE.  Heading into summer camp, the LB's looked to be the strongest starting unit on the defense.  However, in recent camp sessions, Schiano has been tinkering with the lineup a bit, switching Beauharnais from the outside (where he excelled as a true freshman) back to the middle (where he was sufficient but not overly impressive as a sophomore)—so maybe Glaud isn’t quite ready to take over the middle. 

 

Now he’s moved Glaud to DE and Jamal Merrell is rounding out the first team linebacking corps.  Apparently, the move was made because they needed to find a way to get Merrell on the field, but we’ll see how this works out. 

I expect true freshmen Kevin Snyder and Quentin Gause to provide some depth along with David Milewski.  Frankly, the starting permutations are getting to be too numerous to list.  I am fairly optimistic about the end game here, once all the chips fall into place, and I think it will benefit the entire defense. 

Again, not a senior amongst the starters or even on the 2-deep, outside of 6th year senior Edmond Laryea.  Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012 linebacking corps!! 

One to watch:  Kevin Snyder.  Again, tooting my own horn here (NSD ’11, Most Underrated Honorable Mention), it looks like Snyder will be on the 2-deep from September 1st.  He has great speed for his size, he should be a solid contributor this year if not (dare I say it)... starting by mid-season.  I dared. I dared to say it. 

 

Cornerback – Grade: Incomplete

Is that a cop out?  Maybe.  I mean, we take our ONE veteran and established corner, a guy who came in and earned solid burn as a TRUE FRESHMEN and has been a mainstay on the outside ever since... and we move him to the safety spot. 

 

That leaves us with some questions.  We have been recruiting some pretty good corners, so Schiano must feel comfortable with their coverage ability if he is making the changes he is. 

The starters should be the capable Brandon Jones and RS sophomore Logan Ryan.  After that, it’s a toss-up between the guy who led our team in rushing last year, converted running Jordan Thomas, and ANOTHER converted running back in Mason Robinson. 

The good news?  They are both fast, and former state champs in the 100m. 

The bad news?  Neither has played a defensive down at the collegiate level, so there’s that.  Marcus Cooper adds a solid veteran presence to the unit (and played very well in our second scrimmage to boot) while we wait for youngsters Gareef Glashen and Tejay Johnson to step and grab a spot. 

One to watch:  Logan Ryan.  The former 4-star recruit is starting as a redshirt sophomore and should make strides toward stardom this season. 

 

Safeties – Grade:  B+

I have to admit—I like the theory here. 

 

Assuming we are solid at the corners, we improved our coverage ability at the linebacker position and here at the safety spot. 

I really like the smarts that a guy like David Rowe brings to the table, while Duron Harmon provides the size and speed to offer run support as well as lower the boom on receivers. 

There is a bit of a sacrifice when it comes to size, but I LOVE their coverage ability.  The veteran Patrick Kivlehan should provide some depth along with RS junior Wayne Warren and RS sophomore Lorenzo Waters. This should be a nice unit. 

One to watch:  David Rowe.  Mainly, I love his pass coverage ability from the safety spot.  If it actually translates to turnovers or not remains to be seen. 

 

READY OR NOT: 

 A list of freshmen, sophomores, or other newcomers who, from what I’ve been hearing, may or may not make an impact this year.

Brandon Coleman:  Ready (two deep)

Savon Huggins:  Ready (honestly, may start Sept. 1)

 

Kaleb Johnson:  Ready (two deep)

Keith Lumpkin:  Not Ready

Quentin Gause:  Ready (two deep)

Miles Shuler :   Ready (but still might get the shirt)

Charles Davis:  Not Ready (grades)

Ben Martin:  Ready (but will likely redshirt – has shown flashes, though!)

Myles Jackson:  Ready (surprised me)

Gary Nova:  Ready (he better be - should play Sept. 1)

Kevin Snyder:  Ready (two deep)

Kenneth Kirksey:  Ready

 

Djwany Mera: Ready

David Miliewski: Ready

Rashad Knight:  Not Ready (injury, out for season)

Dallas Hendrickson: Not Ready (injury, out for season)

 

 

THE SCHEDULE!!!

What a mess.  We play 8 BCS teams, and I think they’re all either first or second-year coaches. That’s volatility, my friends. 

Welcome to the New Big East. 

I will say there isn’t a team that we CAN’T beat, so we’re looking at toss-ups—and trust me, these teams all have issues of their own.  There are 3 that I would be shocked about losing to, so that right there should average out to 7.5 wins.  I think we get to 8, and go bowling. 

DFL in the conference?  Ha! Big East media voters, I laugh in your face.  +2400 to win the Big East, Las Vegas?  My dollars say differently.  But we do need to be good.  I think we may have the tools, but Schiano needs to do SOMETHING to keep from losing any more momentum. 

I think we were given a pass for last year’s 4-8 debacle.  We won’t be so lucky if it happens again. 

 

North Carolina Central:  Win

Stop it.  We're 44.5 point favorites.  We win big.  Relax the rest of the weekend.  I will enjoy my annual Mocha Coolatta with whipped cream and prep for my fantasy drafts.  Happy Labor Day. 

 

 

@ North Carolina:  Loss

From the easiest call on the schedule to the toughest. 

A program fallen from grace, the Tarheels are now in back-to-back years of NCAA investigation (or is it really just one long investigation?).  Regardless, the team felt the pinch just a few days before summer camp opened when the school fired Head Coach Butch Davis. 

They still have a lot of talent on that team (that’s what happens when you cheat), but if you cut off the head of the snake, will the body wither and die?  A tough test for the re-tooled Knights on the road . . . I’m going with a close loss. 

 

Ohio:  Win

 I’ll tell you what, this is a grittier team than you might give them credit for.  Wins over Temple and Buffalo last year don’t exactly make them dangerous, but don’t take ‘em lightly.  Another W. 

 

@ Syracuse:  Win

 

Tough not to admire what Marrone has done up there in the land of barren tundra and exceptional barbecue.  That said, everything seemed to go ‘Cuse’s way last season, and this year, they’ve already suffered some key defections and injuries. 

One of the few conventional offenses we’ll face this season, they could be a challenge to stop on the ground. 

 

Pittsburgh:  Loss

A team that CRUSHED us last year has a new coach and a new look this year.  There is still plenty of talent on this Pitt squad, although I think they may struggle offensively trying to adapt to their new schemes. 

I think their QB, Sunseri, will adapt well, and by this point in the season, they should be clicking on all cylinders.  I do wonder if half of our coaching staff will have something special cooked up for the occasion since they coached at Pitt just last year, but I don’t think we’ll be able to overcome them. 

 

 

Navy:  Win

Man, I can’t believe we chose to play Navy on Homecoming.  They are really the world’s most frustrating team to watch.  They pound and pound and pound and then they’ll go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 45.  They wear you down, they frustrate you. 

And just to make sure the Rutgers fans make up for the much-publicized treatment of Navy the last time ‘round, we’ve chosen to host their return trip on the day WHEN PEOPLE SHOW UP SPECIFICALLY TO DRINK ALL DAY.  Good work all around, guys. 

 

@ Louisville:  Loss

2 years ago, in Louisville, we crushed them.  Last year at home, they crushed us.  I’d love to return the favor, but I like the players Charlie Strong is using, and how’s he’s using them. 

They lit us up like a Christmas tree last year, and until I see Schiano figure out a way to slow down this offense, I can’t pick against the ‘Ville.

 

West Virginia:  Win

 

Why not, right?  I'm going to pick Rutgers against WVU every year until we beat them.  This is also known as the "when the roulette wheel comes up black 17 times in a row, bet red" strategy.  So I'm betting scarlet. 

 

South Florida:  Win

This one hurt.  We HAD this win on the road last year, and we gave it away.  I have pretty much blocked the screen pass in our own endzone from my memory, so now I can move on and say that our defense has always been up to the task against USF, and our offense much improved offense brings it home this year.

 

@ Army:  Win

Kind of.  We’ll actually be at the new Yankee Stadium, so that’ll be a really good time.  They gave us a heck of a battle last year, but our offensive arsenal will be too much for them to handle this year.

 

Cincinnati:  Loss

They’re like the new West Virginia.  It’s weird, they don’t really register in my mind as a “scary opponent” like West Virginia, Pitt, or even USF, but year after year, they knock us around. 

 

We’ll see if Schiano’s new speedy defense can actually throw a wrench in the works.

 

@ UConn:  Win

And I'll just reverse my West Virginia Roulette Corollary and say that we FIND ways to beat UConn. 

When we're up and they're down (2006), we beat them (with a Jamal Westerman blocked punt).  When they're up (Big East champs) and we're down (4-8, 2010), we beat them.  When they score a back-breaking, go-ahead touchdown with 33 seconds to go (2009), we beat them (with a 17 yard post route that Tim Brown takes an additional 63 yards for the game winning touchdown. 

It doesn't matter.  We.  Beat.  UConn. 

Couple that with the fact that they lose Coach Randy Edsall, a guy who always did more with less than anyone in the business and gain back Coach Pasqualoni, a man not known for such traits, and it locks it in.  Good to end the season against a rival, though! 

I literally salivate when I think about next Thursday.  Hope to see you there. 

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