Trench Depth Key in Big Ten Development

Rutgers’ first year in the Big Ten was a success by national standards, but the Scarlet Knights want more in season two. Coach Kyle Flood and Rutgers have championship aspirations, and aim higher after an 8-5 inaugural season.

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood happily called his program Quick Lane Bowl Champions at the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Picked last in the Big Ten Easy in preseason polls, Rutgers exceeded national expectations. The Scarlet Knights, by far, avoided the feared “doormat” tag with a 3-5 record against the conference.

“I would go back again to what I said from the beginning,” Flood said when grading his first Big Ten season. “I think first impressions in life matter, and I feel like in our first season in the Big Ten we made a good first impression.”

Rutgers left a positive impression in 2014 with one of the conference’s five bowl wins.

But how does Rutgers close the gap in blowout losses to the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State? Flood looks at it as the past, and expects different results in 2015.

“At the end of the year people ask you how many not how,” Flood said. “We’re an eight-win, bowl-championship football team. That’s what last season was. Next year we’ll be a completely different team. We’ll be a different team and the teams we play against will be different teams.

When we play them, the game will start 0-0. We need to make sure that we’re going one step at a time here at Rutgers building the best possible football team we can build here and make sure that everybody in the program from the coaches to the staff to the players are all trying to get better one day at a time.”

The Big Ten is trench warfare, and running backs like Ezekiel Elliot, Ameer Abdullah, Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman proved that in the Big Ten East.

Rutgers has its own stable of weapons at running back, highlighted by senior Paul James and sensational sophomore duo Josh Hicks and Robert Martin.

The Scarlet Knights ran for 163 yards per game without a 500-yard rusher in 2014. Down Kaleb Johnson, Betim Bujari and Taj Alexander, Rutgers must recharge upfront.

“We’ll start that process in the spring, but we need to continue to build depth,” Flood said. “That’s the one position right now on the team I just don’t feel that we’ve got enough depth. We’re building it. We’re building it as fast as we can.”

Reinforcements are on the way in the form of commitments from Blake Camper, Manny Taylor, Zach Venesky and Jonah Jackson.

“We’re going to take a couple more in recruiting this year, so that’s going to help us,” Flood said. “I think that position, we’ve got to continue to really build depth to go through the rigors of a Big Ten season.”

Rutgers loses David Milewski and Kenneth Kirksey on defensive line and Daryl Stephenson could go the same way. Whatever happens, however, Flood spoke confidently about the defensive line depth in Piscataway with a senior Darius Hamilton as its anchor.

“I think we’ve got good depth on the defensive line coming back, and I think we’ve got good depth in a lot of the other position groups,” Flood said. “That one is one where we’re still maybe a year away from feeling comfortable with the amount of depth that we have.”


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