Sam Hellman / Scarlet Report

Zack Heeman Embraces Move to Offensive Tackle

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Zack Heeman opened training camp ahead of J.J. Denman on the depth chart at right tackle. How does the sophomore fit on the line in the spread offense? Heeman discussed that and more with Scarlet Report.

While most of the positions battles at Rutgers are solved with training camp in the books and the opener around the corner, right tackle remains formally unsettled.

Fifth-year senior J.J. Denman started every game at right tackle last year, but he entered camp this year behind sophomore Zack Heeman on the depth chart.

Although head coach Chris Ash said on Friday that the staff would try to figure out the starter by the end of the weekend, Heeman is ready to slide outside if his number is called.

“It’s just opposite footwork, to be honest,” said Heeman, who started two games at left guard in his seven appearances last year. “Coach (AJ Blazek) teaches the same technique both sides and same pad level, same technique and everything. But again, it’s just opposite footwork. So if you’re able to transfer over just in terms of the plays stuff, you should be good to go … it’s not rocket science.”

Heeman, who filled in for Dorian Miller at Army and against Maryland to end the 2015 season, gained invaluable game experience to cap his redshirt-freshman year.

The 6-foot-7, 304-pounder then took what he learned into his approach to offseason workouts and camp.

“The biggest thing is just try to have composure,” Heeman said. “In practice … you try to emulate how close it is in terms of the situations of the game. But, I mean, you’ll have a third-and-long in a game atmosphere with the crowd going. I think that almost gives you a little more composure when you come into practice and you have a little more sense of calm and collective.

“But whatever you try to carry over from a season ago, I think it definitely gives you some confidence. But at the end of the day, you have to come, work hard and be ready to go every single day.”

With his focused centered squarely on self-improvement, the approach trickled down to how he views the competition with Denman.

“I really think that if you’re focused on the depth of which line you’re in and you’re trying to focus on, like, ‘Oh, he’s getting more reps than me,’ that’s really going to affect you’re play,” Heeman said. “So me, I’m really trying to focus more on how I’m playing, the mental reps, whether I’m on the field or off the field, just trying to put myself in the best position.”

As Rutgers moves from the pro style to a power spread, Heeman hopes his athleticism on the hardwood as a 1,000-point scorer at Mount Olive (N.J.) translates onto the gridiron.

“There’s a lot of different positions in terms of different angles that you have to make that in basketball that if you can’t make and I think it translates well into football,” he said. “But again, if you’re not in shape, it doesn’t matter what kind of history you had. It’s going to show. … This coaching staff’s done a really good job getting us in shape, but I definitely think that my basketball career has helped me a lot so far.”

Whether or not Heeman beats out Denman at right tackle, the sophomore’s approach on the line of scrimmage will keep him ready, he said. Up against the likes of fifth-year seniors Quanzell Lambert and Julian Pinnix-Odrick on the end everyday in practice, there is no choice.

“In the biggest grand scheme of things, if you’re not technically sound in terms of your footwork and your hand placement — and coach Blazek’s huge on technique and stuff — you will get exposed from them really quick, especially if you’re not bringing the energy and the mindset, lock in, you will get exposed from those guys,” Heeman said. “So, for me, personally — and I think all of the linemen would say the same — you’ve got to be ready to go.”


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