Big Ten Bound: The Offensive Line

Rutgers football ended 2013 with the disappointment of a bowl loss at Yankee Stadium and a losing record, but has every reason to be excited for 2014. Arguably the national champion of conference realignment, the Scarlet Knights are set to join the Big Ten, and is here to look ahead position by position.

Today looks in-depth at the offensive line. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood fired his line coach at the end of the 2013 regular season and arguably its top lineman, Kaleb Johnson, is in limbo with a decision to stay or leave for the NFL. The highly-touted 2012 offensive line class heads into its third year with Rutgers.

In 2013

What Went Right -- All you have to do is take a look at Paul James, Justin Goodwin and Savon Huggins here. All three had games with huge rushing numbers, and a lot of that credit goes to the offensive line for opening up holes for them. Offensive line was a story of maximizing potential and letting young players grow. Left tackle Keith Lumpkin and right guard Chris Muller played well in their first years as starters, and fifth-year senior Dallas Hendrikson was a great story this season. Hendrikson tore his ACL almost immediately after arriving two years ago, and leaves Piscataway as Flood's "best offensive lineman" in the team banquet.

What Went Wrong -- The problems in 2013 centered around the senior class. To start, if Hendrikson was the best offensive lineman, what took so long to get him in? Hendrikson started only in the second half of the season. Looking at seniors Antwan Lowery and Andre Civil, both came into the year with the chance to be impact starters and spent most of the year backing up younger players.

Heading to the Big Ten

Reason for Excitement -- Lumpkin and Muller are major signs for encouragement this spring. Both started a year before they were expected to, and played well. Left tackle and right guard are under control going into the Big Ten. When you look at the rest of the offensive line, young guys like J.J. Denman (right tackle) and Dorian Miller (left guard) have a chance to follow the same path as Lumpkin and Muller. Denman and Miller were two standouts in bowl practices, and at worst, provide depth for a returning line that also includes seniors Betim Bujari and Taj Alexander..

Cause for Concern -- What happens with Johnson? If Johnson leaves for the NFL, it forces a guy like Miller or Derrick Nelson into a bigger role. What happens at center? Bujari has a history of injury problems and his backup is gone. Brandon Arcidiacono missed most of the year with shoulder issues. Rutgers will have to look at a position change, with guys like Brian Leoni and Nelson practicing snaps last season. Who takes over at long snapper on special teams? Rob Jones was one of the best in the business. Rutgers offensive linemen need to cut down the penalties as a group, and that is the job of the coaches.

New Year's Resolution -- This is no secret, but get stronger. Rutgers got blown off the ball at times against lower-tier opponents and the bodies only get bigger in the Big Ten.

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