Rutgers encourages competition at every position, but the offensive line is almost set at the midway point in training camp.
The coaching staff sent a message to J.J. Denman when he began training camp as the second-team right tackle. Message received and, after a strong start to camp, Denman worked with the ones exclusively during Wednesday's practice.
“It definitely was motivating,” Denman said. “It's not a place I want to stay. It's not a place I want to go back to.”
Denman and sophomore Zack Heeman remain in a battle for the final starting spot on the offensive line.
“That one's up for grabs,” said offensive line coach AJ Blazek. “That's one of the few that's still up.”
Blazek planned in the offseason for each tackle to get time with the ones.
“Right tackle is really good,” he said. “Both tackles are playing well. The unique part of that is Zack took most of the reps last week with the ones. This was the plan from the get-go. J.J is going this week. Two reasons, one I can compare who they're going against equally. The other one is, let the play next to, whether it's Chris [Muller] or [Marcus] Applefield, they're guys that are talking and communicating.”
Denman missed most of spring practice for Rutgers after he started at right tackle last season for Kyle Flood. Saturday was his first scrimmage since the return from injury, and this was his first week back with the starters.
“It felt good,” he said. “I'm excited to keep rolling with that and I've got to come out and make sure that stays the same every day. Keep getting better. That's what I'm going to do.”
Heeman replaced Denman to finish spring after he initially split reps at left tackle with Tariq Cole. He made the move back to tackle after he started the final two games of the season at left guard for the injured Dorian Miller.
“Both coach Ash and coach Blazek both preach – let your play speak on the tape,” Heeman said. “There's not really much I can say in terms of who should playing in that sense. For me personally, the mindset I try to have is that I need to work as hard as I can every single play.
Heeman was also a star basketball player and 1000-point scorer for Flanders (N.J.) Mount Olive.
“Even just condition-wise and technique really carries over well,” Heeman said on his basketball experience. “At the same time if you're not consistent in terms of how you condition yourself, it's going to show. Even with how much foot-speed I had three years ago, if I'm not in shape and ready to go, it's going to show.”