Big Ten Overview: Special Teams

Rutgers is six weeks away from the Big Ten, and learned a lot about itself during 15 spring practices. The roster returns to campus next week for summer workouts, and ScarletReport.com is here to overview the Scarlet Knights – concluding with special teams.

Special teams is a third of the game, and to a program like Rutgers, it is the foundation of some of the best seasons and biggest wins in program history.

Rutgers was solid in special teams under the guidance of Joe Rossi in 2013, and brought Bob Fraser back to the program to take over play-calling in 2014. Head coach Kyle Flood juggled the staff when Rossi took over, and newly hired graduate assistant takes over in helping special teams with Sam Williams changing roles as well.

Rutgers brought in one special teamer on scholarship, and has others walking in with key special teams losses in the offseason like Jeremy Deering, Quron Pratt and Nick Marsh.


The Kicking Game

Field Goals -- In a never-ending position battle, junior Kyle Federico remains slightly ahead of junior Nick Borgese in the battle for the starting job. Field goals were inconsistent in spring practice, but much of that came with a new long snapper and holder added to the mix. Federico entered and left spring as the starter ahead of Borgese. He won the majority of field goal battles, but flashed the same inconsistencies that plagued him as a sophomore. Federico had a stellar finish to the season in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, however, and will look to continue momentum at Washington State.

Punting -- Joe Roth takes over for Marsh as the starting punter after showing enough in spring practice to assuage concerns about the JuCo transfer. Roth boomed enough to impress at punter, and should be fine when it comes to the field position battle. Backup Aidan Murray showed more improvement in spring than any previous camp. Walk-on Mike Cintron will be worth watching in training camp.

Kickoffs -- Rutgers will go with whichever kicker provides the strongest leg. Right now, Federico projects to win this spot.


The Return Game

Janarion Grant is the man of the hour, and of the season, when it comes to Rutgers making an impact in the return game. Grant was electric as a true freshman, and can only get better with an understanding of the playbook.

Grant took "Florida speed" to another level when his first career touch went for 99 yards at Fresno State in 2013. Fraser will do whatever possible to get the ball into Grant's hands on kickoffs and punts this season. Rutgers rarely trusts true freshmen in punt returns. Grant was an exception last year, and is expected to be more sure-handed as a sophomore.

Behind Grant, it all comes down to what players step up in training camp. Rutgers will try out many faces after losing Deering and Pratt as return guys. Sophomores Ruhann Peele and Ian Thomas should get early looks behind Grant. Two-way threat Dre Boggs is an ideal athlete in the return game when it comes to true freshmen, as is cornerback Darian Daily, who runs a sub 4.4, 40-yard dash.


The Little Things

Long Snapping -- Kevin Snyder did his best in the spring, and adding this to his game will help when it comes time to look at the NFL. But a coach should not offer a long snapper a scholarship unless he is expected to start immediately. Alan Lucy is that man in the 2014 class, and projects to win the job early in camp as a top-five snapper in the country out of high school.

Holding

-- J.T. Tartacoff's value to the program came on display with his absence this spring. Quarterback Mike Bimonte and a series of special teamers tried their hands at holder in the spring. Bimonte spent a lot of offseason time working on it, and enters the summer with a chance to take this job and add interesting trick play wrinkles to the position.

Gunners and blocks -- Plenty of standouts cut their teeth on special teams. Rutgers needs fresh bodies here with an extremely aggressive style of play calling. A few names to watch when it comes to big plays in kickoff and punt coverage – Kevin Marquez, Carlton Agudosi, Ruhann Peele and Anthony Cioffi.

Rutgers leads the nation in field goal blocks over the last five seasons. Jamal Merrell is a key loss on the block squad, but red-shirt freshman Myles Nash has a similar frame and more athleticism at linebacker. Agudosi and Andre Patton have impressive vertical skills at wide receiver and safety Johnathan Aiken had double digit blocks during a high school career in Florida.


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