What a difference a year makes. Or, in this case, ten. Rutgers annual spring game took place on Saturday afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 20,114 scarlet clad fans. A far cry from the first few years under Greg Schiano’s watch, where regular season home games were viewed by 10,000 or less. What these fans saw, that those of seven or eight years ago did not, was talent and depth at just about every position. Even with some major stars, such as Mohamed Sanu, nursing injuries, there was more than enough talent on the field to keep the fans entertained.
Basking in the beautiful, sun-drenched, seventy degree weather, I found myself comparing the action unfolding on the field in front of me to the plot of Clint Eastwood’s all time best serial movies – the Dirty Harry sagas. Just like Harry Callahan, this Rutgers team is a bit of an enigma at first glance. They are a mix of talented, very young guys who have the potential to be very successful. How far that talent will take them, however, remains a mystery. In honor of Clint’s impending 80th birthday, and with apologies to Mr. Eastwood, here’s a look at the questions answered, and those still in the hands of the jury, as seen by Harry Callahan.
Go ahead. Make my day.
Joe Martinek cemented his position as the number one back going into the fall. Jersey Joe rumbled for 116 yards on 18 carries, and a touchdown for the Scarlet. On one particularly beautiful play, Martinek turned free safety Duron Harmon into a statue with a head fake that bought him another 15 yards on the way to a 52 yard scamper.
Martinek’s performance did, however, throw a spotlight on the glaring lack of a reliable backfield compliment to his running. Injured running back De’Antwan Williams should be 100% by the fall, but saw limited action as a heralded freshman last season. Tyrone Putman, who started for the White on Saturday, doesn’t quite have the size or skill to be an every down back. This is a major issue that has to be resolved this August.
A man’s got to know his limitations.
Tom Savage, a 2009 Freshman All-America at quarterback, has quietly assumed a leadership role on the team. Saddled last year with a thin group of receivers, and a surprisingly underachieving offensive line, Savage still showed flashes of why most feel he will eventually leave Rutgers with a full trophy case and an NFL contract.
Although there was no blitzing, and Tom felt the security offered by the no-contact green jersey, he still displayed the poise and decision making you would expect from a star QB. On several occasions he stepped up into the pocket, buying himself a few extra seconds to find an open receiver, or dump the ball of to a back or tight end for a short, but positive gain. With a very vanilla playbook at his disposal, he threw for a respectable 181 yards on 17 for 30 passing.
Behind Savage, however, lies another disparity in capable back-ups. The only other quarterback currently on the roster is junior Steve Shimko. Steve has the look of a big time QB at 6-5 and 230 pounds, but doesn’t possess the skill set to be relied on for anything other than mop-up duties at the end of a blow out win. Help is expected with the arrival of Chas Dodd in the fall, but I’m sure the goal is to avoid burning his red shirt.
If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.
There is no denying that finding capable compliments to Mohamed Sanu at wide-out is paramount to Rutgers having a successful season. Quron Pratt, who worked extensively with Savage over the winter, may be part of the answer. The sophomore had some nice catches in traffic among his five for 55 yards on the day. The concern would be his size. At six foot, and 175 pounds, he doesn’t present the imposing target that Kenny Britt did prior to moving on to the NFL. Another potential star at the position is Keith Stroud. At 6-3 and 205 pounds, he looks more the part. Playing for the White team, he hooked up with Steve Shimko for one of the highlights of the day, a twisting, acrobatic, 37 yard touchdown pass for the White’s only score of the game. If he, and physical bookend Mark Harrison can step up their game this summer, that would be a huge bonus for Savage.
There are no guarantees that the answer to Rutgers lack of a go-to receiver have been found, but with the aforementioned players, as well as guys like Timmy Wright and Julian Hayes, at least there is potential for success.
You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky.
Tom Savage must have felt his luck had run out several times last year after being sacked more often than expected while standing behind an offensive line that, on paper, was one of the strongest in the country. Unfortunately, yesterday’s scrimmage did little to dissuade the fears of those bemoaning the loss of Anthony Davis to the San Francisco 49ers. Several expected starters were held out due to injuries, and those who played did not have to worry about picking up blitzes, or preventing sacks.
Another concern, which reared it’s less than attractive head yesterday, was the play from center. Caleb Ruch, a senior with a good bit of O-line experience, handled the duties, and struggled mightily. Several shotgun snaps were too low, too high, or just plain ugly. Hopefully, with everyone back at full strength in August, this problem will be addressed.
I tried being reasonable. I don’t like it.
Most fans expect the 2010 edition of the defense to be one of the strong suits of the team. Even with the limits put on over aggressive contact during the spring game, several players showed what to expect come fall. Steve Beauharnais, adjusting to his recent move from strong side to middle linebacker recorded 13 tackles, an interception, and a tackle for loss. It seems he is anxious to build on his 2009 season finale performance in the St. Petersburg Bowl where he recorded seven tackles and two sacks.
Scott Vallone and Isaac Holmes made some noise from their spots on the defensive line, and were very strong against runs up the middle.
Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.
Overall, the Scarlet and White spring game provided its intended purpose – entertainment. The fans enjoyed a beautiful day under the sun, a nice group of potential recruits witnessed the continuing metamorphosis of a team on the rise, and all in attendance got to see a glimpse of those who will be donning the scarlet and white of Rutgers University in the fall of 2010.
Ketchup or mustard on a hot dog, glass half empty or half full, does Rutgers have more questions or answers going into next season? It’s all a matter of perspective. All the pieces are there for another successful season. We’ll just have to wait until September.