Moving Forward: Center Battle Breakdown

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood continues his search for Betim Bujari's replacement at center after five seasons of contribution. With junior Derrick Nelson in the lead, center remains one of the hottest projected position battles of training camp.

The Competition -- Junior Derrick Nelson is the only true center with experience, but he faces many potential challengers in the upcoming training camp. Between position changes and new arrivals, Nelson faces many competitors for the starting spot.

The former Washington (D.C.) Archbishop Carroll standout improved during spring. Guards Chris Muller and Dorian Miller both practiced the center spot as challengers to Nelson, and a new name arrived this summer in freshman Zach Venesky.

Nelson earned his place as a spring starter, but he has to treat training camp as a new start and do it all over again with other healthy, legitimate options hungry for a starting role.

Storyline Central -- The offensive line cannot set itself elsewhere until a true starter emerges at center to replace Betim Bujari, who was one of the most valuable members of the 2014 roster. Does Tariq Cole step in at left or right guard if one of those projected starters moves to center? Who is the primary backup at tackle if Marcus Applefield’s reps increase at center? Is Venesky anywhere close to game ready? The best-case scenario for Rutgers is to see Nelson grab the brass ring early to allow the rest of the line time to build chemistry.

Prospect Development -- Venesky joined the program shortly after he played in the Big 33 all-star game. He transitions from tackle to center for college, and needs as much work as possible to get ready for his new role. Venesky blocks with a nasty streak and could push for time based on necessity, but a red-shirt year could be the best option for the talented young lineman.

Preseason Grade -- C- – Nelson was a solid recruit that showcased impressive mobility when he earned a Big Man Academy offer out of high school. But with limited in-game experience and so many inexperienced options in tryout roles behind him, depth at center is not where it needs to be.


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