SPRING PREVIEW – OFFENSIVE LINE
So, I continue with my spring preview as spring camp opened Friday. I‘ve finished previewing the defense. They forced a punt. Now the offense has the ball. The infantry has long been considered the queen of the battlefield. Let's start up front with the foot soldiers – the offensive line. This preview is based upon information released prior to the opening of spring camp. My thoughts likewise share the same perspective. This article is the fourth of an eight-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it entered spring camp. The article reviews roster changes and injuries prior to spring camp. The article also identifies issues that need to be addressed in spring practice and can be observed by fans at the practices and scrimmages.
Last season, the offensive line was the weakest link in a very weak offense. Including sacks, scrambles, and trick plays, the offense gained only 52 rushing yards per game, or 1.5 yards per carry. The OLine yielded 51 sacks . Rutgers was ranked #116 (out of 117 Division IA teams) in rushing offense, #117 (DFL) in total offense, and #117 in scoring offense. The offense was a comedy of errors. And the OLine was the Keystone Cops. Nagging injuries and ineffective play prompted Schiano to use seven different starting lineups on the OLine. None worked. Other than a glimmering half here and there, the OLine – and the offense along with it – was a mess. The total failure in every aspect of the offense resulted in the departure of Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit, the hiring of former Utah OC Craig Ver Steeg as the new OC, the demotion of OLine Coach Joe Susan, and the promotion of former TE Coach Mario Cristobal to OLine Coach.
PLAYERS LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players lost off the two-deep include:
- LT Trohn Carswell (11 GS and 12 GP)
- RT Howard Blackwood (11 GS)
- OG Mike Esposito (3 GS and 8 GP)
Trohn Carswell transferred to Rutgers from junior college but didn't join the program until the 2000 season was actually underway, which limited him to one appearance. Schiano switched Carswell to OT in spring camp in 2001 because of the dearth of talent and depth on the OLine. Carswell displaced the incumbent and started 6 of the final 7 games at LT. He started 11 games at LT last season. Carswell never provided the security that one expects from the LT, who guards the QB's blind side. Carswell's replacement must perform better.
Howard Blackwood was a mainstay on the OLine for three years. Redshirted as a freshman in 1998, he was one of the few reserves to see action in the disastrous 1999 season, when backups couldn't displace starters hobbled with nagging injuries. In 2000, with four of five starters departed, Blackwood won the starting LT job and started every game. Badly hobbled with an injured back and knee in 2001, he was arguably the weakest link on the OLine. Demoted to a backup role in summer camp in 2002, Blackwood regained his starting job in Week 2 after serving a one-game suspension and didn't relinquish it. As with Carswell, Blackwood provided unsatisfactory protection against edge rushers. Similarly, his replacement must perform better.
Mike Esposito redshirted as a freshman in 1998. He cracked the two-deep but didn't play much in 1999 despite nagging injuries to the starters. In 2000, Espo started the final 7 games at RG after the incumbent was declared academically ineligible. Espo earned the starting job at RG in 2001 and started 7 games at RG before starting 2 more at center after the incumbent was injured. Espo was expected to be the leader of the OLine last year but chronic knee problems reduced his effectiveness and limited him to a backup role. Continuing performance problems with the starters afforded Espo the opportunity to start the final three games (he was the fifth player to start at RG). His leadership and toughness will be missed on a unit desperately lacking both.
RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players returning off of the two-deep include:
- RS Sr C Marty Pyszczymuka (12 GS)
- RS Sr RG Brian Duffy (5 GS)
- RS So LG Sameeh McDonald (8 GS and 9 GP)
- Sr OG Rich McManis (5 GS and 11 GP)
- Sr OT Mike Williamson (3 GS and 8 GP)
- RS So OG Mike Clancy (4 GP)
- RS Jr OT Rob Dinsmore (4 GP GP)
Marty P'zmuka redshirted as a freshman in 1999. A knee injury suffered in spring camp sidelined him for much of the 2000 season, limiting him to action in the final 6 games as a backup DT. Attrition and injuries on the OLine prompted Schiano to switch P'zmuka from DT to OL at the beginning of summer camp in 2001. P'zmuka started the first 10 games at RG before missing the season finale with an injury. P'zmuka was the only OL to start every game last season despite a broken wrist. The broken wrist has required a second surgery and P'zmuka will miss spring camp.
Brian Duffy waited two years to play. He redshirted as a freshman in 1999 and then a shoulder injury then shelved him his second year. Duffy has been a mainstay on the right side of the OLine ever since, starting every game for which he was available. Unexpected attrition forced Schiano to switch Duffy to RT in summer camp in 2001, where he started the first 10 games before missing the season finale with an ankle injury. Duffy switched back to his natural position at RG last spring and started 6 games before a knee (ACL) injury ended his season. Duffy won't be ready to participate in spring camp.
Sameeh McDonald redshirted as a freshman in 2001. Last year, he cracked the two-deep in spring camp as the backup LT. McDonald displaced an ineffective Rich McManis as the starting LG in Game 3 and McDonald started all but two the final 10 games. McDonald enters spring camp battling for one of the four starting jobs at OG or OT.
Rich McManis joined the program in January 2000 in a deferred enrollment after sustaining a knee injury while practicing for a summer high school all-star game. He played in 7 games at LG in 2000 as a key reserve upon returning. McManis reinjured the knee in spring camp in 2001 and didn't return until Game 6 in 2001. With injuries mounting on the OLine, he was plugged into a reserve starter role almost immediately and started 2 games at RG and one at LG. Like Mike Esposito, McManis has chronic knee problems that limited his effectiveness and eventually relegated him to a backup role last season after he started the first two games. The season ending injury to Brian Duffy afforded McManis another starting opportunity but he again was replaced after two ineffective starts by converted DT Davon Clark, who switched to RG mid-week. McManis likely will continue in a backup role.
Mike Williamson has been the most visible OL from the 2000 recruiting class but has yet to really assert himself. Severe depth problems on the OLine created an opportunity on the two-deep in 2000. Williamson technically earned the backup center job but was limited to only two appearances. Severe attrition for the second year in a row put three starting OL jobs up for grabs with limited competition in 2001. However, two converted DL and a converted JUCO TE beat Williamson for the jobs, one of which included his designated center position. Williamson played in only 6 games and it took 3 injury-related DNPs to get Williamson a start in the season finale. Williamson suffered a concussion in summer camp last year and a slow recovery limited him to backup duty. He started one game each at RT, LT, and RG. Williamson enters spring camp likely battling for one of the two starting OT jobs.
Mike Clancy redshirted as a freshman in 2001. As injuries depleted the depth chart on the OLine, Clancy broke the two-deep late in the season but never played, preserving his redshirt. Clancy cracked the two-deep in spring camp last year at LG. However, when Rich McManis struggled early last year, Clancy did not move up to displace him. Rather, backup LT Sameeh McDonald moved over to start at LG. Mike Esposito also started ahead of Clancy at LG. Furthermore, when McManis again struggled after replacing an injured Brian Duffy at RG, Schiano first started converted DT Davon Clark at RG with only a few days of practice. Later, Schiano switched backup OT Mike Williamson to displace Clark. Six different players started at OG last season yet Clancy, the designated backup, was not one of them. Clancy is only a 3rd-year player but those circumstances raise serious questions about his ability to contribute.
Rob Dinsmore has been even less visible than fellow 2000 recruit Mike Williamson. Unable to win a spot on the two-deep, he was redshirted as a freshman in 2000. As with Williamson, Dinsmore was unable to win a starting job in an improvised lineup in 2001. Although Dinsmore technically earned the backup RT job in 2001, he played in only 5 games, usually when there was an injury among the 8-man rotation. One is led to a discouraging conclusion about Schiano's appraisal of Dinsmore's potential considering the tremendous immigration of players to the OLine. Last season, gimpy Rich McManis and Mike Esposito started ahead of Dinsmore. Worse, converted DT Davon Clark started ahead of Dinsmore with only a few practices under his belt. Dinsmore's inability to crack the starting lineup as a 3rd-year player during an injury-plagued season is damning evidence against him. Dinsmore likely will be relegated to the third team by summer camp.
NEW CANDIDATES FOR THE TWO-DEEP
Players trying to crack the two-deep include:
- Jr OT Clint Dato (JUCO)
- RS So OG John Glass (transfer)
- RS So C Mark Segaloff (4 GP)
- RS Fr C William Vogt (redshirt)
- RS Fr OG Randy Boxill (spring enrollee)
Clint Dato transferred to Rutgers from Cerritos Community College and joined the program in January 2002. Dato was a two-year starter at RT at Cerritos. He is expected to seize one of the starting OG jobs in spring camp
John Glass initially signed with Syracuse but enrolled at Division II New Haven in 2001 after failing to qualify in 2000. He transferred to Rutgers last year and was one of the surprise stories of summer camp because his signing was not previously announced. That Glass was good enough to sign with Syracuse is an endorsement of his potential. Despite playing only one year in the past three, he is expected to seize of the starting OT jobs in spring camp.
Mark Segaloff redshirted as a freshman in 2001. Segaloff could not crack the two-deep last year in spring camp. As only a second year player in need of further development, he would not have been expected to contribute. However, injuries created opportunities at RT and converted DT Davon Clark played ahead of Segaloff with only a few practices under his belt. While Segaloff may yet develop into a serviceable player, he is not expected to break the two-deep this year.
William Vogt technically was the backup C last season as a true freshman. However, he never played and preserved his redshirt. In the absence of injured two-year starter Marty P'zmuka, Vogt will compete for the temporarily open starting job at C.
Randy Boxill joined the program in January 2001 in a deferred enrollment as a late qualifier. Expected to content for a starting job, he suffered a knee (ACL) injury early in spring camp last year and missed the 2002 season with a medical redshirt. Boxill is nearly healed and has an extra year of strength and conditioning behind him. Boxill likely will compete for one of the two open starting jobs at OG.
As I stated above, the OLine last season was the root cause behind the inept offensive "production." In my defensive previews, I stated that, relatively speaking, the defense was better than the offense last season. But one can't truthfully use degrees of "good" to describe either unit. Rutgers ranked last in the Big East in rushing defense (207 yards per game, or #106 nationally) and sacks (15). While the DLine appears improved, it still cannot be used as a barometer with which to measure the performance of the OLine in spring camp.
The health of the OLine is still a very big concern this spring. Six different OL combinations started games last season. That's a troubling lack of continuity for a unit with questionable talent with which to begin. Never mind a unit loaded with guys that never played OL before. The health of Rich McManis and Randy Boxill particularly will be something to watch.
Lack of quality depth on the OLine was another tremendous problem last season. Again. Questionable talent in the 2000 and 2001 recruiting classes compounded an inherited lack of depth. Schiano relied primarily upon an 8-man rotation; the #9 - #11 OL played in four games each. It again will be interesting to observe the OL rotations in spring ball. How will the entire second team perform relative to the first team?
The evolution of the depth chart will be the most telling development of spring camp. Most opponents manhandled our offensive line – disrupting the running game with penetration into the backfield and quickly pressuring the QB. Maturation of young players will contribute towards improvement. So, will an infusion of new talent that will play right away (e.g., Glass and Dato). Non-performance was a major reason for the lineup shuffling last season. Improvement will be incumbent upon the displacement of non-performing starters with new, more talented players. OL can better be judged against peers at the same positions rather than their counterparts on defense. Of particular on the OLine will be the following:
- The OT jobs are both open. Will newcomers seize both of these crucial jobs?
- With Brian Duffy unavailable, the OG jobs are also wide open. Who among McDonald, Dato, Boxill, or Williamson will emerge as the starting OGs?
- How many third and fourth year players will contribute meaningfully on the depth chart?
Coming Next: Part 5 of my Spring Preview. Two years ago, Schiano inherited a team without an experienced QB. After losing three QBs in two years, he's back at square one in 2003. I'll look at this key position, which was a source of great angst last season.
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