Moving Forward: Offensive Tackle Breakdown

The countdown to 2015 Rutgers training camp continues with a deeper look at offensive tackle. As head coach Kyle Flood seeks his next starting quarterback, the competitors need as much protection as possible from an impressive pass-rushing group in training camp.

The Competition -- Fifth-year senior Keith Lumpkin not only has the left tackle spot locked down, but could be one of the best in the conference as a senior. The rest of the outlook at tackle comes down to training camp performances.

J.J. Denman was solid at right tackle during spring camp, and was a steadying presence in a consistently changing offensive line. He played his first significant action as a co-starter last year with Taj Alexander. Denman is a strong run blocker with some speed and mobility concerns against the more athletic defensive ends in the Big Ten. Denman’s biggest competition in camp comes from red-shirt freshman Marcus Applefield. Applefield heads into his second training camp improved after early 2014 enrollment, and brings some versatility with his work at center and left tackle during spring camp.

Storyline Central -- Lumpkin is the biggest storyline for Rutgers at tackle, and finally gets his chance in the spotlight after two under-the-radar seasons at left tackle where he protected Gary Nova. Lumpkin now gives his services to either Chris Laviano or Hayden Rettig with all eyes on a quarterback battle.

Lumpkin was the least-heralded of a 2011 St. Peter’s Prep star trio. Five years later, he is the biggest success story as tailback Savon Huggins concludes his career with a season at Northern Iowa and work toward his master degree. Sheldon Royster, who transferred into Rutgers from South Carolina, did not stay long before his departure.

Prospect Development -- Rutgers needs to develop its next left tackle, and Zack Heeman’s lost spring from injury did not help that cause. Heeman comes with a similar athletic look to Lumpkin, but he needs significant improvements and development if he wants to follow the same path as a starter by sophomore season. Rutgers worked red-shirt freshman Jacquis Webb at tackle in spring, and he took a step forward. A similar training camp performance makes Webb the fourth tackle on the two-deep. Jack Shutack was a solid late addition to the Rutgers 2016 recruiting class and Manny Taylor out of Philadelphia is an interesting, but very raw, athlete. Red-shirts for both is the ideal scenario for the Scarlet Knights.

Preseason Grade -- B+ -- Lumpkin is the college prototype, and a fifth season of his services is a gift to an otherwise inexperienced Rutgers offensive line. Denman was inconsistent as a co-starter, but he was one of the best performers during spring practice. Applefield is a solid albeit unproven option as the primary backup, but Rutgers will be in trouble if it loses Lumpkin for any significant action.


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