Offensive Line Embracing Offseason Challenge

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers offensive line had a dismal 2010 season, but are eager to begin working for the 2011 season. Outgoing senior center Howard Barbieri spoke to about a few key areas of offseason improvement, and several of the returning player discussed what they thought were key target areas between now and spring practice.

Rutgers leading rusher averaged less than 35 yards per game. Its quarterbacks were sacked more than any others in the nation.

Call it rebuilding, restructuring, retooling or restoring, but there is a lot of work to be done to make the Scarlet Knights' offensive line a strength, and the players know it.

They also believe an offseason of work and study is the elixir, providing the effort and desire exists.

"Strength is a big part of it," center Howard Barbieri, the lone starting offensive lineman lost to graduation, said last week. "Strength is very fixable. With our weight program, people just have to be able to push themselves. If they want to do it, then they're able to with the strength coaches. All the talent is there. It's just knowing what you're doing, and strength."

Missed assignments were bugaboos throughout a season in which Rutgers quarterbacks were sacked 61 times, including 45 against freshman Chas Dodd.

Late in the season Rutgers coach Greg Schiano pointed to a need for more detailed strength, similar to right guard Caleb Ruch's point of needing more strength in his core so pad level wasn't compromised as games wore on.

Schiano said tweaks in the strength and conditioning program for offensive linemen would help them stay on blocks when their technique was compromised a little bit.

"I know they're going to be better," Dodd said. "Just with the heart that a bunch of the guys have, and how dedicated they are to getting it down pat and doing their job right, I have full confidence in everyone on the offensive line."

Rutgers has starting experience back in senior left tackle Desmond Stapleton and left guard Desmond Wynn. Each will be red-shirt seniors, and started every game in 2010.

Ruch, who will also be a red-shirt senior, made nine starts and red-shirt junior-to-be right tackle Devon Watkis made four starts, although red-shirt shirt freshman Andre Civil started in his place in the season finale at West Virginia.

Also, senior-to-be Art Forst, who has started 28 games on the offensive line in three years will try to re-acquire his starting spot, be it at right tackle, left guard or right guard.

"I was humbled by the season," Watkis said. "You learn that you can't go into a season living off last year, or the year before's legacy. You have to work hard, and as hard as we work, we have to realize other teams work just as hard, and we have to stay humble and play with a certain mentality."

The offensive line struggled, and the offense suffered.

Freshman Jordan Thomas led Rutgers in rushing with 417 yards. The rushing offense, which came primarily out of the Wildcat formation, ranked 110th of 120 teams, and accounted for 100.9 yards per game.

Rutgers passing offense (194 ypg) was 79th, the total offense was 114th (294.9 ypg) and scoring was 100th (20.83 ppg).

Perhaps a blessing is there is no clear-cut leader for the group as it heads into the pivotal offseason training program, but there are options.

"I feel like I have to become a leader, as well as follow the leaders that are already there like Desmond Stapleton and Caleb Ruch," Watkis said. "For the young guys that are on their way, I'm in a position now where I have to elevate and become a leader.

"Coach says leadership is doing what you're supposed to. You have to trust in your teammates and trust in yourself. We need a lot more vocal leaders."

Last season much of the leadership fell to Barbieri since he and Mo Lange, who was used only on field goal and extra point block teams, were the only seniors.

"It could be Stapleton," Ruch said. "He's stepped us this year. He's played real good. Art's got good leadership characteristics. Coach's definition of being a leader is your attitude and performance. If you've got a good attitude and perform well in the weight room, guys will follow you.

"So, anybody on the o-line has the chance to step up and be the leader."

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