RUTGERS RECRUITING NEEDS
Part 2: Offensive Linemen
When Head Coach Greg Schiano arrived on the Banks four years ago, he pledged to "build the program on a rock foundation that once built, will last forever". The old football adage says, "Games are won in the trenches". The OLine and DLine are the foundation of each unit. Unfortunately, Schiano has been reticent in laying his offensive foundation. He inherited a dilapidated OLine from his predecessor, Terry Shea. During Year One, Schiano was forced to start a converted DT and a converted JUCO TE on the OLine. And the young OL in the program did not show much promise. Schiano desperately needed to upgrade the talent on the OLine. Yet his first three recruiting classes were light on OL, both in terms of quantity and quality. Schiano recruited only ten OL in those first three classes. Only three of those ten have contributed meaningfully so far and four would appear to be write-offs. This article, the second in a series of eight evaluating the recruiting needs of the 2005 Class, looks at the foundation of the offense – the OLine.
RS Sr LG Brian Duffy was a four-year starter for Schiano through an injury plagued career. One of Shea's most highly touted recruits, Duffy never played for Shea as shoulder injuries sidelined him for two years and resulted in a sixth year of eligibility, which the NCAA granted last year. A knee injury cut short the 2002 season and knee problems hampered Duffy for each of the past two seasons. The cumulative impact of those injuries possibly manifested itself this season as Duffy played poorly. Expected to anchor the left side of the OLine, Duffy was one of many weak links on the left side.
RS Sr C Ray Pilch was a jack-of-all-trades, never playing the same position in consecutive years – first TE, then FB, TE, and finally center. Schiano did not move Pilch to center until May, after spring camp. It was a very difficult situation. Learning the job without the benefit of spring camp was a lot to ask of anybody. Pilch performed admirably in a very tough situation. But he also struggled, specifically with the combination blocks on iso plays – he had to double team the DT, release, and then block the backside OLB. Rutgers did not run iso very well this year, often because Ray could not disengage from the DT and, as a result, missed the backside OLB. Of course, his assignment wasn't helped by the fact that the backside OLB knew that Rutgers wasn't going to run outside. So, the OLB could cheat to stop the inside runs. Many fans blame Pilch for the poor running game this year. That isn't fair. Ray was one of many OL that struggled with their run blocking assignments. He was just an easy target.
RS Sr LT Ron Green was a heralded JUCO All-American recruit three years ago. However, he did not qualify to enroll at Rutgers in 2002. He missed an entire year of football while gaining eligibility at Middlesex Community College. Green never recovered from the lost year. Expected to be Rutgers best OL, he was only a co-starter starter at RT in 2003. He moved over to LT this year and, although he started the entire season, he struggled to execute his blocking assignments, especially on outside runs to his side (left). He was often beaten at the point of attack, which resulted in plays being blown up for loss. Green was yet another weak link on the left side of the OLine.
RS Jr RG John Glass has been the best OL in the program since he arrived in 2002 as a transfer from Division II New Haven. Glass earned Second Team All-Big East honors this year. Although he was the best OL, he also had his share of struggles, too. Glass was repeatedly beaten at the point of attack in disappointing offensive displays against Division IAA New Hampshire and MAC bottom feeder Kent State. Glass will be the anchor around which the OLine will be rebuilt.
RS Jr RT Sameeh McDonald is the only Schiano HS recruit to contribute meaningfully from the first three recruiting classes. McDonald was a backup in 2002 and a co-starter at RT in 2003. Sameeh assumed the full-time starting RT job in 2004. Although Glass received the All-Big East honors, McDonald may have been the best OL on the team. However, an ankle injury suffered against Syracuse limited his playing time during the middle of the season. McDonald and Glass will give Schiano a strong right side behind which to run next year.
True Fr OG Jeremy Zuttah was the jewel of the 2004 recruiting class. With over 30 scholarship offers, Zuttah was the most highly-touted player without issues (e.g., eligibility) that Schiano recruited. Zuttah practiced at every position on the OLine in summer camp and emerged as a utility backup. Jeremy started five games at RT (1), LG (3), and LT (1). Zuttah experienced his share of growing pains, but his versatility speaks volumes about his ability. He's going to be special. Zuttah definitely will start next year. The only question is, at what position?
RS So RT Cameron Stephenson was a surprise addition to the 2004 recruiting class as a JUCO DT. Schiano switched Stephenson to OT in summer camp. Stephenson started the Temple game in place of the injured McDonald and Zuttah but suffered an ankle injury that limited his playing time the rest of the season. Schiano may yet switch Cameron back to DT to replace three departing seniors. However, Stephenson may be more desperately needed on the extremely short-handed OLine, which is must replace three starters.
RS Fr LT Pedro Sosa was one of the more highly touted members of the 2003 recruiting class. He broke the two-deep as a true freshman but did not play. When McDonald was injured against Syracuse, Sosa initially replaced him in the lineup. Sosa played LT, allowing Green to take McDonald's slot at RT. But Sosa struggled in his first action. No doubt a consequence of lost opportunities to play against New Hampshire and Kent State. Schiano replaced Sosa with Zuttah and Pedro didn't play the rest of the year. Rumors quickly surfaced after the season that Sosa, allegedly unhappy with the lack of playing time, would transfer. The loss of Sosa would be devastating to a young unit trying to replenish its badly depleted ranks.
True Fr OG Corey Hyman was the second true freshman to see action last year. A testament to both the lack of quality depth in the program and Hyman's promise. A slew of injuries on the OLine created openings. While Zuttah was filling in at OT, Hyman saw action ahead of a second- and third-year player as a backup OG. It would have been preferable to spare Hyman's redshirt. Now, he will be expected to contribute as a backup in the playing rotation.
RS So C William Vogt supposedly was the heir apparent to former starter Marty P'zmuka at center. Yet Davon Clark, suspended from the program for a year, immediately seized the starting center job in spring camp last year. After Clark was dismissed from the program in April, Schiano converted Pilch to center (from TE) and Pilch immediately earned the starting job. Vogt, who had been practicing at center for two years, was quietly brushed aside by two players with substantial obstacles facing them. One could reasonably conclude that Vogt is a write-off.
RS Sr OT Clint Dato arrived in Spring 2002 as a JUCO transfer and competed for a starting job in spring camp. However, he suffered a knee injury in summer camp and missed much of the season. He played sparingly and did not make a favorable impression. Dato was unable to earn the vacant starting OT job in spring camp last year and was buried on the depth behind a converted JUCO DT, a redshirt freshman, and a true freshman.
RS Fr OG Mike Fladdell was lightly recruited out of New York City. A giant young man, he was considered a project not likely to contribute for until his third year. He suffered a knee injury in summer camp this year that cost him an opportunity for early playing time when Duffy was injured late in the season. Fladdell did not see action behind Zuttah and Hyman on the depth chart. While he was not expected to contribute this year, the fact that injuries created an opportunity and two true freshmen played ahead of him is cause for concern. It is too early to write-off Fladdell. But the staff has a far better perspective on his ability to contribute in the future.
RS Jr OG Mike Clancy was a member of Schiano's first recruiting class. After redshirting as true freshman, he barely played in two years despite a plethora of injuries on the OLine. Already written off as a non-contributor, Clancy quit the team before summer camp to concentrate on academics.
RS Jr C Mark Segaloff joined high school teammate Clancy in Schiano's first recruiting class. While Clancy played sparingly on the two-deep and had an opportunity to contribute, Segaloff never broke the two-deep and rarely played. Written off as a non-contributor, Segaloff was not asked back for his fifth season, which is standard practice for players not on the two-deep.
RS So OG Randy Boxill was a surprise addition to the 2002 recruiting class. Originally recruited by Miami, Boxill did not qualify academically and was not admitted to Miami. After a year out of school, Boxill signed with Rutgers (Schiano had recruited while at Miami). As a former Miami recruit, Boxill arrived on the Banks as a spring enrollee with high expectations, possibly including playing as a true freshman. However, he was out of shape after a year away from football and his ability to contribute as a true freshman was suspect. An ACL injury in spring camp settled the issue. Boxill was slow to recover from the knee injury and did not play in 2003. He made the two-deep in 2004 spring camp but did not play behind Zuttah and Hyman, two true freshman. One can reasonably conclude that Boxill is a bust and will not contribute.
RS Fr C Dan Mazan transferred to Rutgers this year from Penn State. He redshirted as a true freshman but suffered a shoulder injury in practice. Mazan is expected to replace Pilch as the starting center next year.
Fr OL Mike Gilmartin originally committed to South Carolina last year but decomitted after changes on the Gamecock coaching staff. He redshirted last year and, at 270 pounds, may need another year of physical development before he is ready to contribute. He will have an opportunity to compete for a spot on the two-deep next year.
Fr OL Jon Fields missed the season with a medical ailment and did not practice with the team. Spring camp will be his first opportunity to practice with the team. His ability to contribute is totally unknown. He likely will need another year of strength and conditioning, which will also provide a chance to learn the schemes.
Schiano returns only two starters from an OLine that took a huge step backwards this year. After averaging 139 rushing yards per game in 2003, the Scarlet Knights rushed for only 84 yards per game this year, which ranked #113 nationally (out of 117 Division IA teams). Power G (pulling OG leading the TB off the down-blocking TE) didn't work. Iso (FB leading the TB between the OG and C) didn't work. Off-tackle didn't work. Inside, outside. It didn't matter. The OLine couldn't open holes at the point of attack. Some of these problems were due to predictable playcalling that allowed opponents to stack their rush defense inside. But a substantial problem was blown assignments. Five years into his reign, Schiano still needs to substantially upgrade the talent on the OLine. He returns his two best starters but he must replace the other three. Schiano also lost three non-contributing reserves. He returns only one proven reserve and three more potential contributors who have played. Right now, Schiano appears to have an eight-man OL rotation with two rising second year players still likely a year away and two more non-contributors. That's a total pool of only ten potentially contributing OL currently in the program. A healthy program has at least a three-deep OLine, which allows the time necessary to develop younger OL. Schiano needs at least four, preferably five, more OL to build depth on his problematic OLine. At least one of these OL should be a JUCO who can contribute immediately, preferably as a spring 2005 enrollee.
Coming Next: Rutgers Recruiting Needs, Part 3. Rutgers has been among the worst rushing teams in three of Schiano's four seasons at Rutgers. Schiano has had an unstable backfield for four years, plagued by poor performance and constant turnover on the depth chart. In what kind of shape is the backfield?
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