Ash Era Countdown: Top Position Battles at Rutgers

The Ash Era countdown to Rutgers training camp takes a look at the upcoming position battles. Scarlet Report looks in-depth at the most interesting and most competitive battles after covering all of spring practice and preparing for the first training camp under Chris Ash.

5. Special Teams – Kicker and punter are both technically open heading into training camp. While David Bonagura and Michael Cintron hold advantages as starters from the spring, Jared Smolar and Tim Gleeson bring real competition at kicker and punter respectively.

Rutgers brought in plenty of non-regional kickers in the past that could not adjust quickly to the Northeast. Until Smolar proves it in camp, Bonagura has the advantage. The punting battle, in many ways, depends on Gleeson's health. Cintron stepped up well in spring and showed a stronger overall leg.

4. Linebacker – This isn't as much a position battle in camp as it is a test to find the right role in a new defensive scheme. Converted safety Najee Clayton fits well into the new hybrid SAM. Deonte Roberts worked at the WILL and SAM after he solidified himself during spring camp. The final spot, however, is a battle. T.J. Taylor is a natural at linebacker. One year removed from knee surgery, the former South Brunswick champion should be significantly closer to 100 percent than he was in the spring. Red-shirt freshman Trevor Morris and junior Brandon Russell also worked with the ones in spring.

3. Offensive Tackle – Derrick Nelson and Dorian Miller won their respective jobs in spring practice and, despite a solid spring from Marcus Applefield, the returning Chris Muller is a multi-year guard starter for a reason.

Left tackle likely goes to Tariq Cole, who was one of the stars of spring, but Zack Heeman played just as well at tackle with J.J. Denman out. Can Heeman push for Denman's job after the latter missed so much time? Heeman may push Cole as well, and Applefield brings good versatility at tackle or guard. May the best two win.

CHRIS MULLER PARTICIPATION

PARTICIPATIONG
2012 0
2013 13
2014 13
2015 12
TOTAL 38

2. Quarterback – Sick of it or not, the quarterback position is and will always be a hot topic for Rutgers football. And with no official starter named after spring camp, the quarterback battle dominates the offseason build to training camp until Ash ultimately announces his decision.

Yes, Chris Laviano still leads after he received a significant majority of first-team work by the end of spring practice. But as long as a starter goes unnamed, opportunities remain for other competitors.

Hayden Rettig has the most Rutgers experience, by far, of other competitors. He brings a strong arm and live experience from the 2015 season. Can he organize the offense when everything speeds up significantly with a no-huddle spread? Newcomers Tylin Oden and Zach Allen are both wildcards at the position. They both bring the right athletic background. They both, also, come with questions. Oden needs to add weight and adjust to college quickly. The one-time Louisville commit enters training camp with almost no college experiences. Allen spent the last year as a wide receiver. From TCU wide receiver to starting Big Ten quarterback in one offseason would be a heck of a story.

1. Cornerback – There are a lot of layers to this battle, which is why it takes the top spot for most interesting contest of training camp. Ash was open about not liking what he saw from last year's Rutgers defense. That includes plenty of young corners that return for 2016. Ronnie James is already relocated to safety, and sophomore Jarius Adams lost ground with injury problems in spring.

This is where it gets really interesting. Blessuan Austin and Isaiah Wharton have experience. They're also impressive athletes. But based on the secondary's production in Kyle Flood's final season, Ash may turn to his own recruits quickly. Michigan graduate transfer Ross Taylor-Douglas is an immediate-impact player for Ash, who initially recruited him in high school. Junior college cornerback Kobe Marfo gets an early look with some NFL ties and a valuable semester at Reedley (Calif.) Junior College.

There are four or five legitimate contenders for starting jobs, and they begin camp on even footing. That makes cornerback the most-anticipated battle of camp.

BLESSUAN AUSTIN STATS

DEFENSEGSOLOASST.TOTALSACKS/YDSTFL/YARDSFFFRP DEFINT/YDS
2015 11 27 6 33 -- 2 / 7 1 -- 4 1 / 50
TOTAL 11 27 6 33 -- 2 / 7 1 -- 4 1 / 50

ISAIAH WHARTON STATS

DEFENSEGSOLOASST.TOTALSACKS/YDSTFL/YARDSFFFRP DEFINT/YDS
2014 0 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
2015 12 38 19 57 -- 3 / 14 -- -- 10 1 / 0
TOTAL 12 38 19 57 -- 3 / 14 -- -- 10 1 / 0

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