SPRING PREVIEW – QUARTERBACKS
This article is the fifth of an eight-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it entered spring camp. The first three segments previewed the defense. The last article looked at the offensive line. Next up – the QBs. This preview is based upon information released only prior to the opening of spring camp. My thoughts likewise share the same perspective. 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.
Two years ago, Head Coach Greg Schiano inherited a team without an experienced QB. After losing to transfers three QBs in two years, he enters his third spring camp back where he started. The QB soap opera continued last year as Schiano benched the "QB of the future" after a season opening loss to Villanova. Schiano changed starting QBs five times during the season as three different QBs each started four games. Former OC Bill Cubit, father of incumbent starting QB Ryan Cubit, worsened the QB problem with conduct that brought allegations of nepotism – allegedly screaming at Schiano after the head coach elected to give former backup QB Ted Trump a second chance to start against Army, singling out his son Ryan for praise after the entire team turned in a gutty display at Tennessee, and publicly questioning Schiano's personnel moves at QB. With the inevitable departure of both father and son, new staff and new players face the challenge of reanimating a lifeless offense. Rutgers ranked #97 nationally (of 117 Division IA teams) in passing offense (162 yards per game) and, for the second consecutive year, dead last in scoring offense (14 points per game). Schiano enters Year Three with a QB situation as clouded as it was when he was hired.
PLAYER LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
So QB Ryan Cubit (4 GS, 8 GP, 64 of 141 for 657 yards, 5 TDs, and 6 INTs) is the only QB lost of the two-deep. QBit started every game as a true freshman in 2001 and, as the only recruited scholarship QB on the roster, he took almost every snap. Not surprisingly, the true freshman struggled, completing only 45% of his passes and throwing twice as many INTs as TDs. QBit entered last season as the QB of the future, secure in his position as the starter. However, the future ended abruptly with a dismal season-opening performance against Villanova, after which Schiano benched his ineffective starter. QBit replaced an injured Ted Trump as the starter against Tennessee and displaced an ineffective Trump in starts against Virginia Tech and Syracuse. An elbow injury suffered against Syracuse effectively ended his season. With true freshman Ryan Hart subsequently being touted as the next "QB of the future," with Bill Cubit irreconcilably clashing with Schiano, and with a hostile "home" crowd jeering his every move, QBit saw the writing on the wall and transferred to Western Michigan, Bill Cubit's former employer, before his father officially parted ways with Schiano. QBit needed a fresh start he couldn't get at Rutgers. Meanwhile, Schiano invested nearly two years into his QB of the future and now has nothing to show for that investment.
RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players returning off of the two-deep include:
- So QB Ryan Hart (4 GS, 5 GP, 51 of 111 for 479 yards, 2 TDs, and 6 INTs)
- RS Sr QB Ted Trump (4 GS, 7 GP, 71of 155 for 740 yards, 4 TD, and 11 INT)
Ryan Hart arrived on the banks with little acclaim. With Schiano unwilling to toss another true freshman into the fire, Ryan QBit was firmly entrenched as the starting QB. Furthermore, local QB Anthony Cali received much of the fanfare directed towards the incoming recruiting class. Hart flew low under the radar and worked hard at his craft. Hart beat Cali for the third team QB job, which sent Cali to the scout team. Expected to redshirt, Hart received an early baptism under fire when QBit suffered a potentially season-ending elbow injury at Syracuse and Ted Trump was ineffective yet again. After closing the fourth quarter at Syracuse, Hart started the final four games of the season, including a starting debut against the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes. The departure of QBit has largely cemented Hart as the QB of the future. Hart can secure that position in spring camp.
Ted Trump joined the program for the 2000 season as a walk-on but did not play. Transfers vaulted Trump onto scholarship and into the backup QB job in 2001. Despite the plethora of blowouts and repeated poor performances by Cubit, Trump saw only spot mop-up duty in 6 games in 2001. When QBit foundered in the season opener last year, Trump was still (and inexcusably) an unproven commodity. Four starts and a fifth game later, Schiano had the answer he should have known a year earlier – that Trump wasn't the answer. Trump completed only 46% of his passes with nearly a 3:1 INT-to-TD ratio. Trump is the most experienced QB but he is destined for a backup role. If he even returns next summer. Bringing back a 5th-year player to be the third string QB makes no sense.
NEW CANDIDATES FOR THE TWO-DEEP
Players trying to crack the two-deep include:
- Jr QB/WR Chris Baker (13 receptions for 117 yards and 2 TDs)
- RS Fr QB Anthony Cali (redshirted)
Chris Baker was academically ineligible as a true freshman in 2001 but he practiced as the scout team QB. Schiano switched Baker to WR last year in spring camp after Baker failed to crack the two-deep at QB. Baker's height and athleticism offered him a better chance to contribute at WR. Hamstring injuries to the expected starter in summer camp created a further opportunity that Baker seized. Baker was the first team WR for the first 5 games before a stress fracture in his foot ended his season prematurely. Expected to be in a three-way battle for two available starting WR jobs in spring camp, Baker instead requested from Schiano another opportunity to compete for the starting QB job after the departure of both Cubits. Schiano consented. Baker's athleticism offers intriguing possibilities at QB if his errant arm can be harnessed. West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh each featured QBs who posed a substantial running threat that defenses were forced to consider. Can Baker pose such a threat at Rutgers? Or will he bounce yet again back to WR?
Anthony Cali redshirted as a true freshman last year and practiced as the scout team QB. Cali enters spring camp as the third-team QB. I expect Cali to pass Trump on the depth chart and battle Baker for the backup QB job.
The performance of all three QBs last season was adversely impacted by poor play along the OLine and at RB and WR. However, the QBs contributed their fair share of mistakes. Inaccuracy, turnovers, and lack of playmaking have been the biggest performance issues at QB. Of particular interest in spring camp will be the following:
- Can the QBs complete at least 50% of their passes?
- Can the QBs throw fewer INTs than TDs?
- Can the QBs complete passes to receivers downfield?
- Can Chris Baker bring another viable dimension to the offense at QB?
- Will Anthony Cali pass Ted Trump on the depth chart?
Coming Next: Part 6 of my Spring Preview. The running game was more inept last year than was the woeful passing game. Though three separate players had 100-yard rushing games, Schiano could not get consistent production from the TB position. And the FB did not pose a threat that defenses were forced to honor. New OC Craig Ver Steeg has brought an increased emphasis on a power running game. Four TBs and three FBs will be jockeying for position on the depth chart.
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