Muller, Denman Excited to Play Side by Side

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Chris Muller and J.J. Denman talked about playing next to one another since they were underclassmen in separate Pennsylvania high schools. The dream came to fruition Thursday against Washington State, and will continue to do so as Denman earns more playing time at right tackle.

Chris Muller and J.J. Denman found out the news together when Kyle Flood became head coach. It was a quick decision for both to stay committed to Rutgers, and the rewards for their decision keep coming.

Denman and Muller hit another milestone last week. For the first time, the pair played next to each other for significant football action. Muller returned as the starter at right guard with Denman getting 15 snaps beside him at right tackle.

It was an experienced the two planned for three years, and took place memorably at CenturyLink Field.

“We talked about it before the game,” Denman said. “We knew that I was going to get a shot. We just prepared for it, and went over some stuff on paper and worked together in practice during the week. We got the communication down a little better. There’s still some stuff to clean up, but it was a lot of fun.”

Denman was hit-and-miss in his opportunities against Washington State. Ten of Denman’s 15 plays came in a dominant second-quarter series for Rutgers.

Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen ran the ball 10 times for 58 yards in a drive that culminated in a Paul James touchdown. Seven of those runs went to the right side behind Muller and Denman.

“I came in with J.J., and from the start we wanted to play next to each other,” Muller said. “Just being able to see him mature and really come into his own is great. It’s like watching a flower blossom. He really did well for himself. He really was a help. I knew I could trust him. We had a great drive when he came in.”

Denman has room for improvement as well. The lone Washington State sack came when the Cougs speed-rushed around Denman for a big hit on Nova.

Flood said after the game that the plan is to work Denman into the rotation but for senior Taj Alexander to remain the starter.

“I’m happy to be playing with the people I always wanted to play with and playing for Rutgers, for my family,” Denman said. “It felt good to just be out there.

“It was probably the most excited feeling that I ever felt. … There were some mistakes but it’s nothing that … we work on this stuff every day in practice. It’s a little different in the game, but it’s just something we have to get used to.”

Muller and Denman became friends as underclassmen in high school. The pair of All-American offensive linemen attended schools an hour away from each other and often met up on recruiting visits and at camps and combines.

Muller committed to Rutgers first, doing so in the summer, and worked on Denman through Signing Day after the latter decommitted from Wisconsin.

“It’s awesome to see this situation develop into what we thought it could be,” Muller said. “It’s nice seeing your friend succeed. You want your friends to play well. You love to see the team succeed while the individual is succeeding at the same time. You can’t beat it.”

Denman received significant credit for keeping the 2012 recruiting class intact after Greg Schiano’s NFL departure.

“He helped a lot,” Muller said. “He was one of the first people I called, and he was like ‘I’m staying dude.’ He was really a key reason for a lot of people to stay. We look back at it, and we’re all glad we stayed because there is just so much opportunity.”

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