Spring Football Camp Review -- Offense

Before previewing the upcoming season, I want to revisit spring camp. This article is the first of a two-part review of the Rutgers football team as it finished spring camp. This review is intended as a companion piece to my spring preview series. I will review developments in camp, revisit issues raised in my spring camp previews, and present my vision of the two-deep roster. Since I previewed the offense first, I will similarly review it first.


Summer camp is about a month away.  It's been a quiet spring, except for a couple of early verbal commitments, some disciplinary action, and a position change.  Before previewing the upcoming season, I want to revisit spring camp.  This article is the first of a two-part review of the Rutgers football team as it finished spring camp.  This review is intended as a companion piece to my spring preview series.  I will review developments in camp, revisit issues raised in my spring camp previews, and present my vision of the two-deep roster.  Since I previewed the offense first, I will similarly review it first. 

The view of spring ball from my vantage point 2,500 miles away was not a good one.  Non-statistical observations from only the Spring Game reflect the lack of information from the first and second scrimmages and, therefore, are not conclusive.  I did get to review a copy of the Spring Game.  I've had to base my "observations" and conclusions upon newspaper articles, message board reports, email correspondence, and my analysis of the Spring Game.  The original text from the preview is presented in bold italics. 

Last season, Head Coach Greg Schiano overhauled his offense. Schiano replaced former Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit with former Utah OC Craig Ver Steeg.  Ver Steeg replaced Cubit's flying circus with a run-oriented west coast offense.  Schiano also demoted OLine Coach Joe Susan and promoted former TE Coach Mario Cristobal to OLine Coach.  Cristobal fused new talent with the remnants of a formerly hapless unit to forge an effective OLine.  The running game improved behind the reconstructed OLine with the aid of two big, young backs.  The redesigned passing game also improved dramatically.  The passing game was predicated upon short timing routes.  Ver Steeg's passing game achieved a high degree of accuracy needed to convert first downs and assemble long, clock-eating drives. 

Rutgers was ranked #45 (out of 117 Division IA teams) in passing offense (up from #97), #69 in rushing offense (up from #116), #67 in total offense (up from dead last), and #55 in scoring offense (again, up from DFL).  Rushing yardage almost tripled to 139 yard per game (from 52).  Rushing attempts averaged 3.3 yards per carry, over double of the pathetic 1.5 yards per carry gained in 2002.  The OLine yielded only 23 sacks, less than half of the 2002 total (51).  The completion rate increased from 46% to 59%.  Passing yardage jumped over 40% to 230 yards per game (from 162). 

The offense experienced a metamorphosis last year.  A tough, ball control philosophy replaced a cutesy-cutesy finesse system.  Though running the west coast offense, the punishing ground attack definitely had a Jersey flavor to it.  The offense has found an identity that is a source of pride.  However, the offense is still a work in progress as Ver Steeg reportedly implemented only 80% of his offense last season.  An offense that primarily ran between the tackles or threw short has room to grow.  In its quest for continued development, the offense must carry on without Cristobal, who returned to his alma mater (Miami) and WR Coach Darrell Hazell, who moved up to Ohio State.  Former Western Illinois OLine Coach Ron Holder, another Miami alum, has replaced Cristobal while former Dallas Cowboy WR Coach John McNulty has replaced Hazell. 

The offense, returning nine of eleven starters, was expected to outperform the younger, injury-riddled defense.  Ver Steeg implemented the remaining 25% of his playbook this spring and the offense looked more versatile.  Nonetheless, the offense struggled during spring camp.  The struggles of the second team were not unexpected given the depth concerns at QB and on the OLine.  However, the struggles of the first team were disappointing.  In three scrimmages –  each approximately a full game for the entire offensive unit (and only a half for the first team) – the offense had one outstanding performance followed by two dismal efforts. 

In the first scrimmage, the offense erupted for six TDs and nearly 575 yards.  The RBs gained 228 yards on 46 carries (including a 19-yard flanker reverse).  The QBs combined to complete 25 of 45 passes (56%) for 346 yards, five TDs, and 2 INTs.  The offense clearly won the scrimmage, despite committing 11 illegal procedure penalties.  

In the second scrimmage, the offense sputtered, scoring only two TDs and gaining only 216 yards.  The OLine was dominated along the line of scrimmage.  The RBs gained an anemic 84 yards on 30 carries.  The passing game was equally futile as the QBs combined to complete only 14 of 40 passes for 186 yards and two TDs.  While the average completion (13.3 yards per catch) was impressive, the completion rate (35%) was terrible. 

In the Spring Game, the offenses again were badly outplayed.  The offenses combined to score only 17 points and gain 309 yards.  The RBs gained 181 yards on 33 carries.  However, the QBs and receivers squandered this effort.  The QBs combined to complete only 13 of 32 passes for 128 net yards, including 42 yards lost on five sacks.  The QBs fumbled twice, threw two INTs, and were sacked five times.  The receivers dropped four passes.  If mistakes didn't kill drives, then incompletions did. 


  • Can the offense stretch the field vertically to create more space in which to work underneath?  The first pass of the first scrimmage was a deep pass.  As was the first pass of the spring game.  It was quite apparent from the spring scrimmages that the offense was going to throw deep to loosen up defenses, thus remedying the biggest criticism from last season.  After averaging 11.5 yards per catch last season, the offense averaged 13.7 yards per catch during the spring.  The 44% completion rate during spring partially reflected the increased emphasis on lower percentage deep passes.  Nonetheless, the deep passing game needs more work to effectively complement the short passing game because the completion rate on deep passes is poor (only one of 14 in the Spring Game). 


  • Last season, the running game existed almost exclusively between the tackles.  Rutgers occasionally ran off-tackle and rarely pitched wide.  Inheriting an OLine in total disarray, Ver Steeg apparently wanted to develop the running game inside-out – get proficient at running between the tackles before running outside the tackles.  Rutgers accomplished that first step last year.  What kind of focus on outside running will we see this spring?  In the Spring Game, the offense ran off tackle on the second play from scrimmage but the OL couldn't seal the edge and TB Clarence Pittman lost 8 yards.  Thereafter, the offenses tested the outside only four more times, gaining only 14 yards. The Scarlet Knight OL seem to lack the foot speed to get outside and effectively seal the corner.  Don't expect to see a lot of outside runs next year other than as a change of pace to keep opponents from crowding the inside.


  • The performance of the QB last season was helped tremendously by better play along the OLine and at RB and receiver.  The implementation of a new offensive system contributed to that progress.  However, the QB performance left room for improvement.  Are the QBs making fewer mistakes and more big plays?  Ryan Hart, firmly established as the starter, did not even take a majority of snaps in spring camp.  He got minimal work in the first scrimmage and the Spring Game.  And a sore throwing arm hampered his performance in the second scrimmage.  The performance of the backups in this regard is less relevant since Hart will again take the majority of snaps this season, barring injury. 

Reports of the second scrimmage did not mention any INTs recorded by the defense.  Assuming that the QBs didn't throw any INTs during this scrimmage, the QBs threw 5 TDs and 4 INTs during spring camp.  In the Spring Game, the QBs threw no TDs but two INTs – Hart threw a pick on a last play prayer in the first half and Shawell was intercepted on the goal line on the final possession.  Six of 19 incompletions were the result of poor throws – four by Shawell and two by Cali.  The QBs were sacked five times – three times for Shawell, once for Hart, and once for Cali.  The QBs committed three unforced fumbles – two by Shawell and one by Cali.  The QBs combined for only one big play – a 36-yard bomb from Shawell to WR Willie Foster.  The ledger was decidedly on the debit side.  However, most of the line item entries were by the backups.  Indicative of a big dropoff in productivity. 


  • The biggest issue facing the OLine this spring is the transition from Cristobal to Holder.  Holder must imprint his stamp on the unit without reversing its development.  Rutgers became a smash-mouth offensive football team last year.  Holder must keep them busting jaws.  The OLine again is going to emphasize a smash-mouth running game between the tackles.  It's what they do best.  The OLine controlled the line of scrimmage in the first scrimmage.  The RBs gained 228 rushing yards.  Their protection provided the QBs with enough time to complete 55% of their passes.  The OLine got their clocks cleaned in the second scrimmage as the DLine controlled the line of scrimmage.  The RBs gained only 84 rushing yards.  The OLine was outplayed again in the Spring Game.  Although the offense gained 181 rushing yards – excluding sacks for minus 42 yards – 19 carries gained 2 yards or less and nine were TFLs.  The OLine also yielded five sacks, of which only one was attributable to the QB.  The performance of the starters was generally solid while there is a big drop-off in performance among the backups.  Holder has a challenge ahead of him molding the second unit into a productive group.  He faces the additional burden of solidifying the center position, which was adversely impacted by a shoulder injury to William Vogt and the subsequent dismissal of Davon Clark after spring camp. 


  • Ver Steeg tended to keep his TEs short last season, which allowed opposing LBs to take short drops and sit on the underneath routes.  Will the TEs run more vertical routes to stretch the middle of the field?  The TEs caught 15 passes for 214 yards in three scrimmages.  In the Spring Game, 11 of 32 passes were thrown to the TEs.  Of these eleven, three were deep routes; none were completed and one was dropped. 


  • Will Ver Steeg use 3WR formations more frequently than last season?  Despite the split roster, the coaching staff had enough depth at WR to play two-deep on each team in the Spring Game, which provided enough players to employ 3WR formations.  However, 3WR formations were primarily limited to long yardage, third down, and two-minute drill situations as the coaching staff ran a very vanilla offense.  Due to the conservative nature of the game, firm conclusions about any expanded use of the 3WR formations can't be drawn.  However, based upon the offensive philosophy that Ver Steeg demonstrated last year, 3WR formations are not likely to be a staple of the offense except in special situations.  Or as a change of pace.  


  • Lack of quality depth on the OLine has been an ongoing problem since Schiano arrived in 2001.  For the first time in four years, the starting OLine is relatively set.  In spring camp last year, the dropoff in production between the first and second team OLines was precipitous.  Can second team close that gap this year even though the first team has raised the bar?  The answer, as of spring camp, was an emphatic "NO".  The DLine generally outplayed the OLine in spring camp.  The DLine has more talent and more depth.  That disparity was especially noticeable against the second team OLine, which featured two second-year players, a third-year player, two fourth year players, and a fifth-year player.  The youngsters generally outperformed the veteran backups.  The bad news is that the OLine again appears to be about eight men deep.  The good new is that the younger players provide the depth.  Depth is being built.  Slowly.  Gradually. 


  • For the first time in four years, the health of the OLine is not a concern.  The entire two-deep is healthy going into spring camp.  That ought improve the quality of competition and, thus, practice.  Schiano also must get production out of his third and fourth year OL.  Few injuries occurred during spring camp.  However, the most significant occurred to incumbent C William Vogt (shoulder), who missed the last two scrimmages.  Otherwise, the OLine was healthy.  While only one of four fourth-year OL apparently will contribute, both third-year OL should crack the two-deep. 


  • Three qualified players are competing for two starting OT jobs.  Who among Ron Green, Sameeh McDonald, and Clint Dato will emerge as starters?  What happens with the odd man out?  Green and McDonald clearly separated themselves during spring camp.  While I expected Dato to compete for the starting job, I have read several reports from fans that were not impressed with Dato.  Dato's performance in the Spring Game did nothing to allay this criticism.  The only real question to be answered was, which co-starter would move to LT?  That question was answered immediately when Green opened spring camp as the starting LT.  Dato will backup McDonald at RT but may not play much. 


  • Can Ray Pilch hang on to his starting TE job?  If not, who among Clark Harris, Chris Loomis, or Sam Johnson will take it from him?  Pilch hung on to his co-starter job, despite the strong competition, based solely upon his blocking ability.  Pilch is clearly the best blocker among the TEs.  As a receiver, he is primarily a safety valve.  Pilch has shown the ability to handle blocking assignment at both TE and FB.  He has also shown the ability to adapt to position changes.  As a result of the devastating dismissal of expected starting C Davon Clark, Schiano has a huge gap in his depth chart at center.  As a result, Schiano has switched Pilch to center.  He has approximately four months to gain at least 20 pounds and learn a brand new position.  The position that is the leader of the OLine.  Hopefully, Pilch will prove as serviceable in a backup role as former Scarlet Knight and converted JUCO TE Bryan Boehrer did as a starter in 2001. 


  • Will Anthony Cali or Terrence Shawell emerge as the backup QB?  While Ryan Hart assimilated the rest of the offense and received minimal repetitions, Cali and Shawell were engaged in a surprisingly close battle for the backup QB job.  Reports of the second scrimmage did not mention any INTs recorded by the defense.  Therefore, I have assumed neither QBs threw any INTs during this scrimmage.  Entering camp, Shawell was generally expected to seize the job, relegating Cali to the scout team for the remainder of his career.  However, after impressing many fans last season, Shawell played poorly in spring camp.  He completed only 13 of 34 passes for 215 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs.  His 16.5 yards per completion was impressive but his 38% completion rate was terrible.  In the Spring Game, Shawell completed only 4 of 13 passes for 59 yards and an INT.  He was wildly inaccurate and made too many mistakes outside the pocket that neutralized his mobility. 

Cali, written off last year with poor throwing mechanics and an ability to read defense, showed marked improvement.  He completed 22 of 43 passes for 277 yards, 3 TDs, and an INT.  In the Spring Game, Cali completed 6 of 10 passes for 91 yards.  Anthony was the more accurate passer and showed better judgment reading defenses.  He made his progressions and used his safety valve receivers.  He also showed excellent mobility outside the pocket – much better than Hart but not quite as good as Shawell.  Cali did not make many mistakes and did not force bad throws into coverage.  Cali enters summer camp as the backup QB by a slim margin.  However, there is a big drop-off from Hart to Cali. 


  • With Brian Duffy's eligibility still uncertain, who will practice at LG with the first team and who is the contingency plan?  Duffy practiced with the first team OLine throughout camp.  His likely backup is Randy Boxill.  As of this time, Duffy has not yet been granted a sixth year of eligibility. 


  • How will the pecking order sort itself out at TE?  The switch of Ray Pilch to center alleviates some of the logjam at TE.  However, spring camp only served to muddy the picture.  Clark Harris entered spring camp as the co-starter with Pilch.  Harris had the best receiving performances in the first two scrimmages.  But Chris Loomis was one of the stars of the Spring Game, much as Harris was one year ago.  Harris and Loomis will battle for the starting job in summer camp while Sam Johnson will likely take Pilch's place as the blocking TE. 


  • What is the composition of the second team OLine?  LT Pedro Sosa, LG Randy Boxill, C William Vogt, RG Mike Fladell, RT Clint Dato.  The dismissal of Davon Clark elevated Vogt to the starting center job, by default.  Converted TE Ray Pilch will likely be the backup. 


  • Who among Jerry Andre, Willie Foster, and Chris Baker will emerge as the second backup WR?  The pecking order was difficult to discern from the Spring Game because starting WR Shawn Tucker was injured (creating a temporary opening on the two-deep) and Andre, Foster, and Baker each started.  Foster actually started ahead of Marcus Daniels in the Spring Game – a development that was not explained.  Andre – shutout in three scrimmages – likely has dropped to the third team.  Baker caught two passes for 17 yards in the first scrimmage and drew a pass interference penalty in the Spring Game.  Foster caught two passes for 65 yards – one for 30 yards in the first scrimmage and one for 35 yards in the Spring Game. Foster (the deep threat) and Baker (the big possession receiver) likely will both see action depending upon the circumstances, but I would expect to see more of Foster.  He's a little playmaker. 


  • Have younger, more talented players lapped TBs Clarence Pittman and Marcus Jones on the depth chart?  Jones quit the team after not playing in the first scrimmage.  Speculation initially focused on a lack of opportunity to compete for playing time.  However, the cause allegedly was a misunderstanding with Schiano that was blown out of proportion to the point of no return.  Very unfortunate.  Reduced carries for FB Brian Leonard and a knee injury to TB Markis Facyson provided more opportunities for Pittman.  Pittman seized the chance and led the team in rushing during spring camp (52 carries for 235 yards).  He also caught five passes for another 39 yards.  Schiano was pleased with Pittman's performance.  Especially with the stronger and more decisive manner with which Clarence ran.  Pittman should see carries next season as a change-of-pace TB behind Justise Hairston.  


Here's the two-deep, from my perspective, at the end of spring camp.  Players who missed the entire camp have been dropped from the two-deep under the theory that they will have to work their way back into the rotation.  Players who missed only some portion of spring camp are included in the two-deep.  Their location is based upon their actual place in the rotation during the spring, which may have been limited by the injuries.   


1st Team

2nd Team


So Willie Foster

Sr Jerry Andre


RS Sr Ron Green

RS Fr Pedro Sosa


RS Sr Brian Duffy

RS So Randy Boxill


RS So William Vogt

RS Sr Ray Pilch


RS Jr John Glass

RS Fr Mike Fladell


RS Jr Sameeh McDonald

RS Sr Clint Dato


RS So Clark Harris

Sr Chris Loomis


RS Jr Tres Moses

Sr Chris Baker


Jr Ryan Hart

RS So Anthony Cali


RS So Brian Leonard

RS Jr Ishmael Medley


So Justise Hairston

Sr Clarence Pittman

Missing:  Jr WR Shawn Tucker (injured) and RS Jr C Davon Clark (dismissed after spring camp). 


The development and progress of the following players will be interesting to observe:

  • Can Ryan Hart complete at least 65% of his passes?  Hart completed only 17 of 40 passes in spring camp.  Although he completed only 3 of 9 passes in the Spring Game, four incompletions were dropped passes.  Nonetheless, discounting the drops, his accuracy was still unsatisfactory.  Hart must be more accurate to convert first downs in Ver Steeg's ball control offense. 


  • Can Hart throw half as many INTs as TDs?  Reports of the second scrimmages did not mention any INTs recorded by the defense.  Therefore, I'm assuming that Hart didn't throw any INTs during this scrimmage.  Otherwise, Hart threw two TDs and one INT in spring camp.  He recorded both TDs in the second scrimmage – 22 yards to Tres Moses and 30 yards to Brian Leonard.  Hart's INT occurred on the final play of the first half of the Spring Game – a desperation pass intercepted by walk-on FS Brandon Wood. 


  • Can Hart force fewer passes into tight coverage?  In the Spring Game, Hart appeared to be in command of the offense though it converted only one first down under his leadership.  Dropped third down passes ended two of the four possessions.  Hart's throws were accurate and wise.  He displayed nice touch on deeper routes.   


  • Can Hart find his safety valve receivers more often when pressured to throw away the ball?  In the Spring Game, Hart was sacked once 10 designed passes.  Two other times, he was pressured but threw to his safety valve – both incomplete (one pass deflected at the line of scrimmage and one dropped by Moses).  I really didn't see enough of Hart to draw any firm conclusions.  But this is obviously an area that needs improvement over last year. 


  • Can Hart complete passes to receivers downfield?  Hart opened the first scrimmage with a 33-yard completion to Moses.  He threw a 22-yard TD pass to Moses in the second scrimmage.  In the Spring Game, he threw three deep passes – dropped by TE Chris Loomis on a post route, dropped by Moses on a corner route, and INT by FS Brandon Wood on a desperation fly route to close the first half.  I didn't see enough of Hart to draw firm conclusions but the effectiveness of the offense will be greatly dependent upon the deep passing. 


  • How does Marcus Daniels look compared to Tres Moses?  Moses caught five passes for 86 yards in spring camp.  Daniels was shutout during three scrimmages.  In fact, Daniels played behind Willie Foster on the Scarlet team in the Spring Game.  Daniels' lack of productivity raises some questions about his health during camp.  Something that Schiano generally isn't inclined to volunteer. 


  • Will either Mike Clancy and/or Mark Segaloff contribute meaningfully on the depth chart?  No.  Not likely.  RS Fr RG Mike Fladell has moved ahead of Clancy on the depth chart.  And Schiano's switch of RS Sr Ray Pilch from TE to safety indicates that Segaloff is not a viable backup C. 


  • Schiano signed two promising young OL in his 2003 recruiting class.  Do they look ready to play, even in a backup capacity?  Yes.  Both RS Fr LT Pedro Sosa and Fladell broke the two-deep in spring camp.  Hopefully, they will get some seasoning during September so that they will be able to contribute once the Big East schedule starts. 

Coming Next:  Spring Football Review – Part 2.  I'll revisit some of the issues that I raised about the defense in my spring previews. 

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss spring camp with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board. 

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