SUMMER CAMP PREVIEW – NEW FACES
College football begins tomorrow with the opening of summer camp. The season begins in about a month. The 2004 season dawns on the Banks with a true sense of optimism among the faithful. Coming off a 5-7 (2-5 in the Big East) season last year, returning 16 of 22 starters plus both kickers, and featuring a roster of players almost entirely recruited by Head Coach Greg Schiano, the Scarlet Knights are poised for the breakout season for which Rutgers fans have longed. The roster contains more talent than ever assembled in Piscataway. Academic discipline has virtually eliminated an attrition rate that once bled the roster white. Strength and conditioning have sculpted the players into a team that finally passes the eyeball test – the football team will no longer be confused for the baseball team. The departure of Miami and Virginia Tech has suddenly leveled the playing field in the Big East. An accommodating schedule contains no opponents that the Scarlet Knights cannot beat. Seven wins and a bowl bid are within reach if the young team can reduce the mistakes that plagued it last year and learn to close out games. This article is the first of a three-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it enters summer camp. The article reviews new faces on the roster, some of whom are not so new. I would also like to acknowledge the work of Mike Fasano, Don "Big Dog" Forbes, and Matei. I used researched this article primarily on the Insiders network and their previous interviews and reports contributed substantially to this article.
The 2004 recruiting class was Schiano's most highly rated class yet. Schiano entered the 2003 season as a proven recruiter who had to answer questions about his coaching ability. After opening the season 3-1, the Scarlet Knights lost 6 of their next 7 games, including games against Connecticut and Boston College that Rutgers led in the 4th Quarter. Many recruits, especially in New Jersey, were waiting for evidence that Rutgers was turning the corner. A decisive season-ending win over Syracuse gave Rutgers is first two-win Big East season since 1998 and gave Schiano his first victory in a game he wasn't supposed to win. After silencing the criticism, at least temporarily, Schiano finished the recruiting season with a flourish. Schiano signed 14 recruits from New Jersey, including some of the state's best. The staff also six recruits from Florida. In a sign that the team has stockpiled talent, the class included only one junior college player, as there are fewer needs that require immediate filling through the JUCO ranks.
RS Fr RG Mike Fladell (6-8, 318) has lost over 30 pounds since enrolling last summer. Baby fat has become sculpted muscle. After practicing on the scout team last fall, Fladell earned the backup RG job prior to spring camp, displacing incumbent backup RS Jr Mike Clancy. Fladell will battle backup LG RS So Randy Boxill for the role as the third OG, although Schiano may decide to play a deeper OLine rotation than last year, when only seven OL saw regular action.
RS Fr DE Eric Foster (6-2, 252) was originally recruited as a LB. But a glut of young LBs, as well as a need for more playmaking ability at DE, prompted Schiano to switch Foster to DE prior to spring camp. Foster cracked the two-deep in spring camp, beating RS Fr Rashawn Ricks and Fr Jamaal Westerman for the backup left DE job. Foster was impressive in the Spring Game. He will likely have to fight to keep his backup job if Sr DE Alfred Peterson returns from suspension, as expected. Foster likely won't go quietly and will push Peterson and RS Jr DE Ryan Neill for playing time as Schiano probably will use a three-deep rotation on the DLine.
RS Fr SLB Kenny Gillespie (6-1, 204) is a S/LB tweener who was recruited as a LB because Schiano prefers a relatively smaller, faster LB to a relatively bigger, slower safety. Gillespie struggled in spring camp. He is at least a year away from contributing on the two-deep. He likely will be a special teams player this season.
RS Fr TE Brad Listorti (6-4, 243) is buried at the deepest position on the team. As the fifth TE on the depth chart, he had an unremarkable spring camp. The move of former starting TE RS Sr Ray Pilch to center has created an opportunity for Listorti as the fourth TE. Run blocking will get him on the field sooner as Pilch was the best blocking TE on the team. Listorti likely will contribute more on special teams than as a TE this season. He will have more opportunities next year with the departure of Sr TE Chris Loomis creating another opening on the depth chart.
RS Jr DE Ryan Neill (6-3, 250) suffered a devastating knee injury, with multiple torn ligaments (ACL, MCSL, and patella tendon), two years ago against Miami. At the time, Neill was the starting right DE. He missed last season while rehabilitating his knee and received a medical redshirt. He returns to a much deeper DLine that now runs nearly three-deep. Neill will have to earn back his starting job. With only one career sack, Neill likely will be used more on early downs in a run-stopper role. He likely will split time with RS Jr DE Piana Lukabu.
RS Fr DE Rashawn Ricks (6-3, 241) is buried at the second deepest position on the team. As a third team DE, Ricks was unremarkable in spring camp as other young DEs made plays ahead of him. Ricks was involved in a fatal car accident in July and was briefly hospitalized. Although he is expected to return this season, the likely reinstatement of Peterson will relegate Ricks to the fourth team. He will likely spend the rest of the season on the scout team and try to move up the depth chart in spring camp.
RS Fr QB Terrence Shawell (6-4, 210) was expected to seize the backup QB job in spring camp. It didn't happen. Shawell moved backwards more so than RS So QB Anthony Cali stepped forward. Fans awed by his arm strength and athleticism apparently overlooked his inaccuracy and poor decision-making. Cali edged ahead of Shawell in the competition for the backup QB job. However, Cali has not decisively won the job – that contest will resume in summer camp. If Shawell can reduce his mistakes, he could yet end up as the backup QB. The job will be resolved by late-September – after games against New Hampshire and Kent State allow playing time for the backups – if not by the middle of summer camp.
RS Fr LT Pedro Sosa (6-5, 288) was one of the most highly touted recruits from the 2003 recruiting class. He had offers from plenty of big programs but showed faith in the program that Schiano was building in New Jersey. Last season, Schiano put the true freshman at backup LT – the most important position on the OLine – but used a three-man rotation at OT to preserve Sosa's redshirt season. The departure of former starting LT Mike Williamson has created an opening in the playing rotation that must be filled. While Schiano moved former co-starting RT RS Sr Ron Green to starting LT, the primary backup OT role in the OLine rotation must be filled. Sosa will compete with backup RT RS Sr Clint Dato for the role as the third OT. Should Dato beat Sosa, Schiano may very well use Sosa in a four-man rotation at OT.
RS Fr CB Tre Timbers (5-10, 177) suffered a hamstring injury very early in summer camp last year, which effectively buried him as the sixth CB on the roster. Already playing one true freshman CB in the dime defense (Derrick Roberson) and another on special teams (Joe Porter), Schiano elected to redshirt Timbers. Spring camp was the first real opportunity to evaluate Timbers at CB against his peers. He was beaten more frequently than either Sr CB Eddie Grimes or Porter in the Spring Game. It appears that Timbers is currently slotted as the fourth CB. How much he sees the field depends upon how many CBs Schiano uses in his dime package. Schiano used four CBs last year but that reflected a lack of quality depth at safety. Schiano now has more experience at safety than at CB and is likely to use, at most, three CBs in the dime package.
Fr DE Jamaal Westerman (6-3, 235, Notre Dame HS, Brampton, Ontario) moved from Florida to Canada after his freshman year of high school. He played four more seasons n Ontario (Canadian high school is a five-year program). Westerman received other offers from Boise State and Central Michigan; he had official visits with both. He verbally committed to Rutgers on December 16th and enrolled in January for the spring semester. Westerman participated in winter conditioning, spring camp, and summer conditioning. He displaced Ricks on the depth chart with an impressive performance in spring camp. He may see playing time this year on a three-deep DLine rotation. Otherwise, he will redshirt and practice with the scout team, awaiting another chance to climb the depth chart next year in spring camp.
RS So DT Cameron Stephenson (6-5, 315, Los Angeles Harbor JC, Hawthorne, CA) thrice earned All League honors as an OL in high school. He also earned All State JUCO honors as a freshman DT but received a medical redshirt last year after suffering a season-ending injury in the season opener. As a result of the injury, Stephenson was lightly recruited and had no other offers. He signed on LOI Day. Having already used his redshirt season, Stephenson will play this season if he can crack the three-deep at DT. He will have to beat walk-on So Rameel Meekins for the sixth DT spot.
CB Keon Braswell was expected to crack the two-deep at CB last season but seemingly was beaten by Roberson. Roberson's poor play at CB hardly seemed to justify the move. The rationale for Braswell's absence on the field became apparent when it was reported in mid-November that Braswell left Rutgers after the NCAA denied an appeal of his eligibility. Braswell could not play because he was academically ineligible. A situation that was further compounded when he quit school in mid-semester. Braswell's current whereabouts are unknown but he likely enrolled in a JUCO. We will see if Rutgers stays involved with Braswell because Schiano has a shortage of experienced CBs.
TB Jamar Brittingham originally signed with Rutgers in 2002 but was academically ineligible. He enrolled in prep school and again signed with Rutgers in 2003 but still was unable to qualify. Instead, Brittingham enrolled at DI-AA Bloomsburg University in Spring 2004. It took him two-and-a-half years and three recruiting cycles to get to college. Rutgers currently has a glut at running back, where Brittingham wants to play. So, it is doubtful that he will eventually transfer to Rutgers. I would venture that Schiano has moved on after two years of waiting unsuccessfully for Jamar.
WR Orlando Kane (5-9, 170) received other offers from Boston College, Buffalo, Connecticut, and Penn State in 2002 but verbally committed to Rutgers on July 23, 2002. Although he signed on LOI Day, rumors swirled for months that Kane, like Jr SLB Berkeley Hutchinson a year ahead of him, would not qualify to play as a freshman. Further like Hutchinson, Kane enrolled at Rutgers as a non-qualifier. He could not practice with the team or use its academic support system. Nonetheless, Kane apparently has achieved eligibility because he is listed on the summer camp roster. He will play WR but also will compete for the PR and KOR jobs on special teams.
S Robert Baham (6-0, 185, Jefferson HS, Tampa, FL) was one of the top safeties in the state, according to Florida HS recruiting analyst Larry Blustein. He was involved with Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, and South Carolina but did not receive any offers. Apparently, he was not actively involved with programs a notch below and was still available after LOI Day. He signed with Rutgers three days after LOI Day (February 4th). He likely will compete with Jr FS Dondre Asberry for the backup job behind Sr FS Jarvis Johnson.
RB Jean Beljour (6-0, 200, Hackensack HS, Hackensack, NJ) earned All County honors at RB in Bergen County. He received other offers from Boston College, Connecticut, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Tennessee, Virginia, Western Michigan, and Wisconsin. He had official visits with Connecticut and Syracuse. He verbally committed to Rutgers on January 20th and signed on LOI Day. He is currently listed as a RB and could play TB or FB. Or, he could move to the defensive side of the ball and play safety. Given the depth in the backfield, he likely will redshirt this season unless he switches to safety and breaks the two-deep.
OL Jon Fields (6-3, 270, Matawan HS, Matawan, NJ) did not draw much serious interest from other Division IA schools. He received his only offer from Rutgers, verbally committed on November 13th, and signed on LOI Day. He will certainly redshirt this year and spend the year practicing with the scout team, physically developing, and learning the intricacies of the OLine at the collegiate level. With three OL playing their final seasons, Fields will compete for a spot on the two-deep next spring.
OL Mike Gilmartin (6-6, 270, Estero HS, Estero, FL) earned second team Class 4A All State honors at LT. He received other offers from Clemson, Eastern Michigan, Kentucky, and South Carolina; he had no other official visits. Although Gilmartin initially gave a verbal commitment to South Carolina on December 9th, he later reneged on that commitment after Gamecock Head Coach Lou Holtz shuffled his staff, dismissing the assistant who recruited the Florida OL as well as the OLine Coach. Gilmartin verbally committed to Rutgers on January 11th and signed on LOI Day. Like Fields, Gilmartin will certainly redshirt this year and will compete for a spot on the two-deep next spring.
S Ron Girault (5-11, 195, St. Joseph HS, Spring Valley, NY) earned first team All State honors as a RB but nonetheless did not draw much serious interest from other Division IA schools with the exception of Central Michigan. He received a contingent offer from Rutgers very late in recruiting season and signed on LOI Day, much to the surprise of the Rutgers community that was unaware of his recruitment. He will certainly redshirt this year and spend the year on the scout team, in the weight room, and in the meeting rooms. With the secondary more depleted than any other unit on the field, Girault will compete for a spot on the two-deep next spring.
OL Corey Hyman (6-4, 290, St. Thomas Aquinas HS, Fort Lauderdale, FL) earned first team Class 5A All State honors as an OL. He received other offers from Auburn, Central Florida, Colorado State, Eastern Michigan, Pittsburgh, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, and West Virginia. He had an official visit with Auburn, who joined the recruiting process late in the year. He verbally committed to Rutgers on January 20th and signed on LOI Day. Like Fields and Gilmartin, Hyman will certainly redshirt this year and will compete for a spot on the two-deep next spring.
PK Jeremy Ito (5-11, 180, Redlands HS, Redlands, CA) was a highly touted placekicker who earned All League honor three consecutive years. Although he drew interest from South Carolina and Missouri, he only received another offer from Marshall. He verbally committed to Rutgers on January 30th and signed on LOI Day. Now that Schiano has built quality depth in the program, Ito is expected to be one of the few true freshmen to play this season. Ito is expected to quickly displace incumbent PK RS Sr Ryan Sands almost as soon as summer camp opens and to solve the PK problems that plagued Rutgers last year.
DE Chenry Lewis (6-3, 215, Paterson Catholic HS, Paterson, NJ) twice earned All State honors at LB in Passaic County, including first team laurels last year. He received other offers from Boston College, Iowa, and Pittsburgh. He had official visits with Iowa and Miami. He verbally committed to Rutgers on December 26th and signed on LOI Day. He is currently listed as a DE, consistent with Schiano's approach of converting LBs to DEs (e.g., Lukabu, Neill, Foster, and Ricks). Given the current three-deep rotation at DE, Lewis likely will redshirt this season and spend the year practicing with the scout team, working in the weight room, and learning the position. He will compete for a spot on the depth chart next spring.
TB Dimitri Linton (5-9, 190, Northeast HS, Oakland Park, FL) earned first team Class 5A All State and Class 5A Player of the Year honors as a RB. He received other offers from Air Force, Army, Duke, Northern Illinois, Stanford, South Florida, Temple, and Wake Forest. He had official visits with Air Force and Stanford. He verbally committed to Rutgers on September 27th and signed on LOI Day. Although currently listed as a TB, he could a hybrid TB/WR like Jr Markis Facyson, as well as PR/KOR. Given the depth in the backfield and on special teams, Linton likely will redshirt this season unless he is so much better than the incumbents that Schiano absolutely can't keep him off the field.
CB Chazz Lynn (5-10, 170, Wayne Hills HS, Wayne, NJ) earned numerous regional awards as a junior but missed much of his senior season with an injury. As a result, he was lightly recruited and only received another offer from Iowa; he had no other official visits. He verbally committed to Rutgers on October 6th and signed on LOI Day. He will compete for one of the vacant backup CBs jobs created by the departures of Brandon Haw and Nate Jones. However, Lynn will likely redshirt and spend the season on the scout team.
WR Anthony Miller (6-0, 170, JP Stevens HS, Edison, NJ) earned first team All State honors at WR as a junior before playing QB as a senior. Perhaps as a result of the position change, interest dwindled and Miller received no other offers. With DE Mike Ziarnowksi, Miller was the first verbal commitment of the 2004 recruiting class (April 25th). He signed on LOI Day. Miller was arrested in mid-June during an altercation that subsequently involved the Edison police. After previous criminal incidents with Peterson and former C Davon Clark, the status of Miller's scholarship was uncertain. However, he is currently listed on summer camp roster, at least pending resolution of his legal issues. Given the depth at WR, he likely will redshirt this season and practice with the scout team.
OL Darren Salinardi (6-4, 285, Hudson Catholic HS, Jersey City, NJ) twice earned All County honors in Hudson County (first team last year). He received other offers from Clemson, Connecticut, Indiana, and South Carolina. He had no other official visits. Darren verbally committed to Rutgers with his twin brother Joe on January 12th and signed on LOI Day. Like Fields, Gilmartin, and Hyman, Salinardi will certainly redshirt this year and will compete for a spot on the two-deep next spring.
DT Joseph Salinardi (6-4, 285, Hudson Catholic HS, Jersey City, NJ) earned first team All County honors in Hudson County. He received other offers from Clemson, Connecticut, Indiana, and South Carolina. He had no other official visits. Joe (and his twin brother Darren) verbally committed to Rutgers on January 12th and signed on LOI Day. Attrition has thinned the DT ranks in the current recruiting class but Salinardi will nonetheless redshirt this season because the depth chart is three-deep ahead of him.
WR Keith Taylor (6-4, 180, Elizabeth HS, Elizabeth, NJ) earned All County honors in Union County. He received interest from North Carolina and Virginia but no other offers. Taylor verbally committed to Rutgers on July 2nd and signed on LOI Day. Given the depth at WR, he likely will redshirt this season and practice with the scout team.
QB Mike Teel (6-4, 210, Don Bosco HS, Ramsey, NJ) twice earned first team All State honors. He received other offers from Michigan State, Virginia, and Wisconsin. He had no other official visits. Teel verbally committed to Rutgers on July 3rd and signed on LOI Day. Given the questionable depth at QB, Teel was expected to compete for the backup QB in summer camp. However, a high ankle sprain suffered in the Governors' Bowl in mid-July will likely sideline him during summer camp. If the injury is severe enough to cause Teel to miss the fall season, he ought to defer his enrollment until January, which would essentially give him an extra half redshirt year. If not, Teel will likely redshirt and run the scout team offense while he learns the Rutgers offense.
DE Mike Ziarnowski (6-2, 240, Immaculata HS, Somerville, NJ) twice earned All County honors in Somerset County. He had interest from Boston College, Connecticut, Syracuse, and Virginia but received no other offers and made no other official visits. With WR Anthony Miller, Ziarnowski was the first verbal commitment of the 2004 recruiting class (April 25th). He signed on LOI Day. Given the current three-deep rotation at DE, Ziarnowski likely will redshirt this season and practice with the scout team defense.
OL Jeremy Zuttah (6-4, 285, JP Stevens HS, Edison, NJ) earned first team All County honors in Middlesex County. He received other offers from Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. He had official visits to Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh. Zuttah verbally committed to Rutgers on January 23rd and signed on LOI Day. Like Fields, Gilmartin, Hyman, and Salinardi, Zuttah will likely redshirt this year and will compete for a spot on the two-deep next spring.
DT Shukree Barfield (6-4, 290, Camden HS, Camden, NJ) earned first team All State honors at DE. He received other offers from Clemson, Iowa, Kentucky, Miami, Tennessee, and Tulane. He had official visits with Kentucky and Miami. However, LOI Day passed with no commitment from Barfield. He eventually signed with Rutgers five days after LOI Day . However, rumors swirled for months that Barfield would not qualify to play as a freshman. He is not currently listed on the roster buy may yet enroll at Rutgers this fall as a non-qualifier.
DT Renold Fenelus (6-5, 265, Fort Lauderdale HS, Fort Lauderdale, FL) only played high school football for two years and was not a high visibility recruit. Although he was also involved with Central Florida, East Carolina, and Temple, he received his only offer from Rutgers and signed on LOI Day. Fenelus was also not expected to qualify to play as a freshman. He is not currently listed on the roster and reportedly will not enroll at Rutgers this fall, which is not surprising since he would have to pay out-of-state tuition costs as a non-qualifier. Apparently, he is headed to junior college. We will see if Rutgers stays involved with him.
FB Dwayne Jones (6-1, 235, Lakewood HS, Lakewood, NJ) was limited by injuries during his junior and senior years but nonetheless was a highly touted recruit at RB. Much as Hutchinson was two years ago. Jones received other offers from Boston College, Nebraska, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Rutgers was not listed among his favorites last fall but Jones stunned the Rutgers community with a surprise commitment on November 12th. Although he signed on LOI Day, rumors swirled for months that Jones, also like Hutchinson before him, would not qualify to play as a freshman. Jones is not currently listed on the roster and may not enroll at Rutgers. I don't think we'll have the answer to that question until school starts. You may recall that Jones had Rutgers way down his list of preferred schools until Rutgers miraculously leapfrogged the competition to land him. Apparently, offers from other schools weren't forthcoming because of the eligibility issue and eligibility was not a likely outcome. Schiano took a chance on Jones, hoping enroll him as a Prop 48 athlete and give him a change to gain his eligibility. Much as Hutchinson and Kane did. I don't think that the JUCO route is likely. If Jones instead goes to prep school, Rutgers likely again would be his school of last resort.
CB Bruce McKever (6-3, 185, Glades Central HS, Belle Glade, FL) earned Conference Player of the Year honors. He was lightly recruited, with only another offer from Syracuse. McKever verbally committed to Rutgers on January 25th and signed on LOI Day. He was a surprise deletion from the summer roster and apparently did not qualify. Like Fenelus, McKever allegedly will not enroll at Rutgers this fall as an out-of-state non-qualifier. Apparently, he is headed to junior college. We will see if Rutgers stays involved with McKever because Schiano has a shortage of experienced CBs.
Coming Next: Part 2 of my Summer Camp Preview. Injuries postponed many of the position battles on the depth chart during spring camp. Other competitions were still undecided by the end of the spring camp. I'll look at the spots on the depth chart that are up for grabs in summer camp.
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