The road Tariq Cole took to his current state as Rutgers’ projected starter at left tackle came with twists and turns at every stop.
A project since he committed to the Scarlet Knights as a 400-pound lineman out of Lido Beach (N.Y.) Long Beach, the 6-foot-6 Cole conquered physical challenges before him on his way down to 313 pounds at the start of training camp for his sophomore season.
Cole's on-field experience last season gives him confidence as a blindside protector. The big man said he feels ready to step up on the line and tackle the newest task — the pace of the spread offense.
“It’s fast,” he said. “I think you certainly have to be in shape to run it. Coach (Kenny) Parker certainly has pushed us. He made us ready for that and to run in this offense, you have to be in shape. It’s a hurry-up offense and everyone being on the ball, you have to just go.”
Originally a guard when he sprouted onto the scene as a rangy recruit despite his massive size, Cole looks to step in and replace Keith Lumpkin’s 38 consecutive starts at left tackle.
But after two years spent as his understudy, Cole embraces the opportunity.
“I’m not as nervous as I was before (practices),” said Cole, who pointed to his spurts of time on the field last season. “To have people like Lumpkin and Kaleb (Johnson) that I know, that have played much more time than me, they certainly have had an impact on me. They usually tell me to calm down, just relax, don’t speed up and I do that now. So they’ve just helped me.”
New offensive line coach A.J. Blazek, who hammers home the physical and technical concepts necessary to run with the tempo of the spread offense, noted of Cole’s development from the spring until now.
Blazek pointed back to last week, when Cole had his black helmet stripe removed to denote him as game-ready.
“Tariq’s chugging well,” Blazek said. “Obviously he got knighted this week. He’s still got a lot of things to clean up. He’s very athletic. He’s lost almost 70 pounds in a year, so he’s working with a whole new body and some of the default stuff that was there. He’s just got to get comfortable moving a little differently than just the old routine.”
In the trenches with an experience defensive line everyday in practice, Cole said that the daily battle on the edge against the likes of fifth-year senior defensive ends Quanzell Lambert and Julian Pinnix-Odrick only adds to his personal improvement at tackle.
“They’re hard workers,” Cole said. “They’re always going to run, they’re always trying to finish plus two and to have this type of environment playing in the Big Ten is certainly something I need. To have a pass rush that can get up the field and beat me is definitely something I need to face some of the best people in it.”
As those reps increase with each practice of camp, Cole inches closer to his debut on the blindside. While the inexperience at the college level is a factor, Cole feels comfortable between is high-school days and his growth within the past year.
“I like playing left tackle,” he said. “I played it in high school. Got moved to guard here, but now I’m back at tackle. So I think just to have whoever’s playing quarterback behind me and me knowing I’m protecting them is just something that I like. I like showing that I can protect people.”