Ash Era Countdown: Offensive Line Competition

The Ash Era countdown to Rutgers training camp examines an experienced offensive line with playing time up for grabs. Which veteran needs the strongest training camp? Who are key players in development?

The Competition – Offensive tackle remains one of the most interesting battles of training camp. As many as four players could be in the mix.

J.J. Denman is a returning starter at right but but youngsters Tariq Cole and Zack Heeman both excelled in spring while Denman missed time. Cole asserted himself at left tackle with a re-shaped body, but still split action with Heeman before Denman's injury. Cole and Denman are the favorites heading into training camp. Heeman's basketball-level footwork fit the new offensive scheme very well, and Marcus Applefield could be a fight at tackle assuming the three interior positions remain unchanged.

Storyline Central – Rutgers a strong interior offensive line. Derrick Nelson and Dorian Miller solidified themselves as starters in spring camp, and senior Chris Muller likely does the same at right guard when he returns from injury in training camp.

A new offense means blocks do not have to be held for as many slow-developing plays. It also requires an improved level of communication. Pre-snap penalties were an issue for the last two seasons at Rutgers. The risk only raises in a no-huddle offense with less time to set itself. The challenge is on Nelson and projected quarterback starter Chris Laviano to maintain control at high speeds.

Muller approaches “iron man” status for Rutgers as its most experienced starter on the line.

2012 0
2013 13
2014 13
2015 12

Prospect Development – Expect Heeman and Applefield to regularly be in the rotation even if they do not earn starting spots.

Behind them is a young group that needs significantly more experience. Offensive linemen traditionally need two or three offseasons before they are ready at a Big Ten level. That's the case for developing players like backup center Jonah Jackson. Jackson was one of Rutgers' most improved offensive players. If he does it again during the season as a backup, he becomes the prime contender to replace Nelson at the position. The same goes for red-shirt freshman Zach Venesky, who should be the fourth guard behind Applefield, Muller and Miller.

Chris Ash and line coach AJ Blazek showed a new philosophy on the offensive line when they recruited the 2016 class. Late commitments from Mike Maietti, Sam Howson and Mike Lonsdorf round out a class based on athleticism and late development alongside Nick Krimin.

Preseason Grade – B – Rutgers is an experienced offensive line with real Big Ten size. As the offense transitions into a no-huddle spread, do the veterans hold the ideal skillset for Drew Mehringer's scheme?

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