Thursday Notes: Punt Returns, Sanu, TEs, Etc.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers went inside the bubble to put the finishes touches on preparation for Saturday's game at Syracuse, and afterward coach Greg Schiano met the media. He addressed whether Rutgers will have to set up more punt returns, the production of the tight ends, extra attention given to Mohamed Sanu, former offensive line starters and much more.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. –Rutgers built a reputation as a punt-block team the last few seasons, and opponents are keyed in on it.

So much so Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano is toying with the idea of putting more emphasis on the return game, beginning with Saturday's Big East opener against Syracuse.

"People get the ball off so darn fast against us," he said Thursday. "A team that is a 2.1 (second) get-off is now 1.92. They're speeding it up. Now, does it affect their punting? Maybe. If they can get it off in 1.92, I don't care what block you have. You're not going to be able to get their physically."

With Mohamed Sanu, whom Schiano called Rutgers' best athlete, returning punts, the Scarlet Knights could alter their approach.

"I remember at Miami we were blocking punts like crazy and people started to get them off quicker," Schiano said. "So, we set up more returns, and Santana (Moss) ran a bunch back. So maybe that will happen again."

Tight times
Rutgers tight ends D.C. Jefferson and Paul Carrezola combined for five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown in the first three games, but it is not as if Schiano is unhappy with their production.

"We're getting better," Schiano said. "We scored a touchdown Saturday. We're getting better." Jefferson has three catches and Carrezola has two, including a touchdown, but Schiano said part of the issue is Dodd is finding an open receiver in his progression before he gets to the tight end.

"If it's open before you get to him in the progression …the tight end's No. 2 and No. 1's open, you never get to No. 2," Schiano said.

Silence, please
Rutgers went inside the bubble Thursday before thunderstorms and heavy rains hit. It was designed to get used to fielding punts and kickoffs against a grayish-white backdrop (like the Carrier Dome) and also for the offense to work on its silent counts.

Schiano expressed no concern of quarterback Chas Dodd being ready for his first indoor football game.

"I think he's going to be ready," Schiano said. "Everyone's going on visual instead of auditory, so you just have to make sure everybody sees it."

Also, Schiano said he would like Dodd to complete a higher percentage of passes (he is at 57.3), but understands it is not all his fault.

"It's hard to judge his accuracy because we had a lot of drops the first three weeks," Schiano said. "Then again, we had some extraordinary catches, too. That kind of balances out a little bit, but I think we had more drops than circus catches."

Confidence in backups
With right guard Betim Bujari and right tackle Kaleb Johnson moving into the starting lineup, it means former starters Antonio Lowery and Desmond Stapleton, who is the backup left tackle, are left fighting for playing time.

Schiano said both responded favorably to the competition.

"They've done well. Lowery, I think, really had a good week," Schiano said. "(Stapleton) was a little bumped, and maybe this has given him a little more chance to heal up. Nothing big …I know he wants to play. Who doesn't? He's a competitor.

"We just have to stick with who we think gives us the best chance to win, and then if we think we can get some other guys in there that would help to keep those other guys fresh …so we may play some more guys on the offensive line."

Schiano was asked if shifting Stapleton, a fifth-year senior, to a backup role was difficult.

"No doubt," he said. "He's built equity with us. So I probably moved a little later than I normally would have had he not built that equity. And he's a great person. You know it's the right thing to do, but it's hard."

Defending Sanu
Certainly, Syracuse's defense will be aware of Sanu, who is coming off a school- and Big East-record 16 catches. But Schiano isn't worried about the extra attention of his star receiver, who has 36 catches in three games.

"Ohio saw the game before, too," Schiano said. "We're not going to leave the routes the same. Obviously, you have complementary routes. We haven't used everything we have before we go make new ones. I hope the ball gets distributed more evenly, that would be a good thing. Then you become even more unpredictable."

Injury update
Schiano said there is a chance of getting defensive end Marvin Booker back for Syracuse, but two other players remain on the mend.

"(Defensive end) Jamil Merrell is getting better," he said. "Rashad Knights still isn't close. (Booker) is going to make the trip. I don't know how much he'll play. We'll see how he feels in warm-ups."

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