5. Junior Scott Vallone playing nose guard
It is easy to lose track of a guy in the middle of the defensive line, especially when he's not making a ton of tackles and often taking on two blockers. But when a team breaks a run through the middle, it sets up the rest of the offense. And when middle linebackers are making plays at the line of scrimmage, it usually means the nose guard is doing an excellent job.
Vallone may not make a lot of tackles, but he can be extremely disruptive to an offense at the point of attack, and that will make the rest of the defense markedly better.
4. Defensive speed
Rutgers slow last season, from the defensive ends to the linebackers to the secondary, so the moves forward to put Manny Abreu and Ka'Lial Glaud at defensive end, Khaseem Greene at weakside linebacker and David Rowe at free safety means the defense got faster, and the Scarlet Knights' defense was always at its best when it was fast, and undersized from the traditional way of playing it.
Look for the biggest impact of the position changes to come from Greene, who moves fluidly in space and has a nose for making big plays.
3. Backfield depth
Rutgers was willing to take as many as three running backs in the 2010 class, and brought in Casey Turner and Jawan Jamison in a effort to upgrade the position. Turner was injured early in camp and then transferred, and Jamison came in out of shape and never was a factor.
Now, the Scarlet Knights have Savon Huggins and Jeremy Deering as the marquee running backs and competent depth with junior De'Antwan Williams, who may start against North Carolina Central, and Jamison, who had a strong spring and made a late charge in training camp.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano wanted running backs who could take a potential 2-yard loss and make it a 1-yard gain, and turn the 3-yard gain in to 7 yards. Huggins has that ability, and is the type of back capable of carrying an offense and grinding out a win.
2. The receivers
Tim Wright, Brandon Coleman and Miles Shuler have as many college catches as the ticket takers at High Point Solutions Stadium, but the talent is off the charts. Huggins doesn't have any carries in college, but it is clear he is going to be a very good back.
Coleman, Wright and Quron Pratt, who had an excellent training camp, have experience in the program and it should translate into games. Shuler has unteachable speed, and will be an asset in stretching defenses.
Oh, and did we mention Mohamed Sanu and Mark Harrison. Both had very good training camps and, as juniors, are the leaders of the receiving corps. This group has a lot of weapons, and if quarterback Chas Dodd has a modicum of time, he should be able to find a lot of open targets.
1. Schiano calling the defense
It is not to disrespect what anyone has done in the past few seasons, but Rutgers' defense was at its best when he was running it. He is creative in his blitz packages and has an astonishingly good feel for when to call the right play.
He landed the Rutgers job because of his defensive coordinating at Miami, and he is very good at game-planning and making in-game adjustments. The move to speed on defense is a move to what he likes to do as a defensive coach. There are holes in the defense, but he will be able to disguise them very well.