Chris Ash Transition: The Offensive Line

In the move to the Chris Ash era, Scarlet Report looks at each position in the 2015 season and the upcoming transition under a new coaching staff. Today, we continue with an offensive line set for changes in Drew Mehringer’s projected offensive scheme.

The Facts – Rutgers loses only one starter on the offensive line. The Scarlet Knights started seven different offensive linemen throughout the 2015 season, which included 169.9 rushing yards per game. The 2015 Rutgers offensive line surrendered 2.1 sacks per game.

What Went RightDorian Miller, Zack Heeman and Marcus Applefield represent the right foundation for the next wave of starters. Miller played the most consistent season of any lineman before his injury on the Derrick Nelson collision against Nebraska. Though the late-game injury provided a scare for the Rutgers community, the program made the best of it with valuable experience for freshmen Heeman and Applefield. Both played away from their best position but have building blocks for next season. Heeman made up for time lost during injury rehab with a strong finish in 2015. The 1,000-point scorer in basketball out of Mount Olive (N.J.) is the leading contender as Keith Lumpkin’s replacement.

What Went Wrong – Why did Chris Laviano spend so much time on the run and outside of the pocket? His offensive line could not protect consistently on a traditional pro-style drop back. Former offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels did everything he could to create room for Laviano but the results were inconsistent at best. Right tackle J.J. Denman had a rough middle of the season (against multiple future first-day NFL draft picks) and there is no excuse for the failures in center-quarterback exchange.

Something to Fix – When offensive linemen are out of position, Rutgers must prepare for faster action. The new coaching staff must explore position changes, including Muller as a full-time center, a move to the interior for Denman and reps at left tackle for any willing participants.

The Ash Era – Rutgers can put less emphasis on the road-grading philosophy and better protect its quarterbacks in the expected power-spread attack. That means a more spread-out line that has to hold blocks less and improves against the blitz. Strength and aggression are always important in the trenches but not when it is misguided.

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