Rutgers breaks in a new center Saturday against Norfolk State and the odds sit heavily in favor of junior Derrick Nelson after a strong training camp.
Nelson carried the load at center for most of camp, and his reward likely comes in five days via his first career start. Nelson sat behind Betim Bujari for three seasons before his shot at a starting job.
“I’m ready to be a starter, definitely,” Nelson said during the final week of training camp. “I feel like I’ve repped enough in practice. By the end of training camp, I feel great. I’m ready to go out and play every snap.”
Nelson joined the program as one of five heralded linemen in coach Kyle Flood’s first recruiting class. He is the third destined for playing time behind starting right guard Chris Muller and starting right tackle J.J. Denman.
“The more experience on the line, the better,” Nelson said. “That’s how I look at it, and I can’t wait to play with those guys. … Things are looking pretty good, and this offensive line is looking pretty good. My confidence is great. I’ve taken a lot more reps in practice and it’s looking good.”
The first-career start for Nelson, likely Saturday, is meaningful but the attention is not his focus as an offensive lineman.
“The stuff on the board, my name in lights, that would be cool I guess,” Nelson said. “But I just want to win games. I want to play and contribute. That would be a great feeling and great morale.”
Flood told reporters Thursday during the final media availability at training camp that Nelson would start if kickoff came the next day. The depth chart release comes Tuesday prior to Flood’s pre-game press conference.
“I’m very pleased with Derrick and how he’s produced in training camp,” Flood said. “Derrick’s a high-motor guy — high energy, excellent communicator, he has a lot of the attributes you would want in a center.”
“You can’t ever have enough guys who can snap the ball and let you operate,” Flood said. “That position can become an issue in a hurry if you don’t (have those players.)”