Fresh Start: Award Watch

Rutgers football returns to Piscataway in three days and will be there to bring you the action. Marcus Thompson, Ian Thomas and Desmon Peoples finished last spring as award winners, and is here to look at some candidates for the 2014 versions.

The spring game is best known as a day for fans and recruits when it comes to Rutgers. But while the coaching staff sells the Scarlet Knights to key recruits and the fans get a taste of the 2014 season, Rutgers players get the chance at halftime honors.

Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood will dish out his annual spring awards April 26 to honor the more significant developments of camp. looks at some early contenders for each award.

Frank R. Burns Award -- This award goes out to the player who displays extraordinary mental and physical toughness during spring practices.

Last Year's Winner -- Defensive end Marcus Thompson.

2014 Names to Watch -- David Milewski, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, Bryant Gross-Armiento.

Skinny -- Thompson went on to have a strong finish to his Rutgers career and, one year leader, has a chance of hearing his name called during the NFL draft. All three of the names below have had battled their share of pain, and all three have high expectations for spring practice. Milewski and Pinnix-Odrick, similarly to Thompson, will battle for time at the "R" position. Gross-Armiento projects to return to the field after a season-ending injury suffered in last year's training camp. The award traditionally goes to someone that bounced back in the spring from past injuries, but can also go to a player that played through pain to improve in spring practice. Those names are yet to be determined as Rutgers aims to come into spring as healthy as possible.

Mark Mills Second Effort Award -- This award goes out to the most improved offensive player of the spring.

Last Year's Winner -- Running back Desmon Peoples.

2014 Names to Watch -- Justin Goodwin, Dorian Miller, J.J. Denman, Chris Laviano.

Skinny -- A lot of young players will get the chance to make a mark in spring. Goodwin will likely lead the running backs in spring reps, and can take a step forward in his versatility after some late struggles as a true freshman. Laviano enters his second Rutgers spring with high expectations. The leading contender to push Gary Nova for starting time at quarterback, he showed the first wave of improvement during bowl practices. He needs another one to push Nova and his 28 career starts.

On the offensive line, Miller and Denman will get their first true opportunities at playing time. If either seizes the moment, offensive line coach Mitch Browning gets a nice depth boost.

Douglas A. Smith Award -- This award goes out to the most improved defensive player of spring.

Last Year's Winner -- Cornerback Ian Thomas.

2014 Names to Watch -- Sebastian Joseph, Daryl Stephenson, Kemoko Turay, Myles Nash, T.J. Taylor, Quanzell Lambert.

Skinny -- Any defensive back has a chance here with the need for rising sophomore to step up. But moving into the spring, young faces in the front seven are in line for newfound playing time. Stephenson and Lambert will compete for starting roles on the defensive line after being rotation guys in 2013. Turay and Joseph bring electric physical tools to their positions. The seasoning and physical development gained in their first years out of high school bring big expectations to the field this April. Rutgers keeps its top three linebackers from last year. Behind that, Nash, Taylor and L.J. Liston are needed for the second wave.

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