RUTGERS RECRUITING NEEDS
Part 3: Running Backs
For four years, Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano has used a different starting TB. Eight different players have started at TB. Five were first-year players. All eight recorded 100-yard rushing games but none had a 1,000-yard rushing season. Two seasons ago, a feature TB apparently emerged. This past year, he disappeared. Schiano used a FB as his feature TB, hampering the productivity of both positions because his TB was now too slow to run outside effectively and his FB was no longer a pass-catching threat. The backfield rotation has experienced a revolving door like no other position under Schiano. Five players saw action at TB and five saw action at FB; two players played both positions. There was little continuity. Or chemistry. This article, the third in a series of eight evaluating the needs of the 2005 recruiting class, looks at the unstable stable of RBs.
RS So TB Brian Leonard, the starting FB last year (2003), was pressed into duty as a TB when the starter suffered a knee injury. Surprisingly, Leonard opened this past season still at TB. Oh, the program listed him as a FB. And he earned First Team All-Big East and All-American honors as a FB. But he spent the majority of his snaps at TB. Brian is a powerful runner between the tackles but lacks the speed to run outside. When opponents loaded up the middle to stop him because Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg conceded the outside to the defense, Leonard struggled to average 3 yards per carry. Leonard is a versatile player who can run or catch. But he is not a TB. He belongs at FB or one-back.
RS Jr FB Ishmael Medley was not expected to play much behind Leonard at FB. However, Schiano's use of Leonard at TB created an opportunity at FB for Medley. Medley was used almost exclusively as a blocking FB last year. Medley's responsibility did not change appreciably despite the increased role. Medley's number was rarely called on play-action FB drag routes, the play that Leonard executes so successfully. Since Ver Steeg wouldn't throw to Medley in the flat – and Leonard couldn't run outside – opposing DEs and OLBs were able to abandon their outside containment responsibilities with impunity. Medley should return to his role as a short yardage blocking FB. But he should be used more as a receiver. If only to keep opposing defenses honest.
Sr TB Clarence Pittman drew raves as an academically ineligible freshman on the scout team. But he never lived up to his advance billing. Pittman has started nine games in three years but only three since his sophomore year. He received only fifteen carries this past year. The switch of Leonard to TB buried Pittman third on the depth chart. He saw appreciable action only against Vanderbilt but played well until a fumble effectively ended his evening. Pittman can regain a year of eligibility if he is on pace to graduate next year. However, he was lost among a group of four reserve TBs last year. He may not return for a fifth season since his place on the depth chart is not secure.
So FB Justise Hairston was the starting TB as a true freshman in 2003. He missed the second half of the season with a knee injury. Hairston lost his starting job to Leonard this year and poor play – not running to the hole and fumbling – eventually cost him any playing time at TB. Late in the season, Schiano moved Hairston to FB to compensate for the loss of Leonard's athleticism at the position. It was bizarro backfield as each player was employed out of position. Rumors circulated after the season that Hairston may transfer. The answer to this rumor may not be known until after spring camp.
Jr TB Markis Facyson started as a true freshman but has been a third down specialist ever since. Lacking the size that Schiano prefers at TB, Facyson is used more as a scat back than as an all-purpose TB. He has been plagued by nagging injuries for three years and played very softly this year. He likely will continue as a specialist in obvious passing situations until a more effective player replaces him.
Sr FB Cedric Brown found a home at FB as the short yardage blocker. Cedric played behind Medley and never touched the ball in two years as a FB. Like Medley, Brown saw more playing time with Leonard as the feature TB. And like Medley, the increased use did not alter his role. Brown was a powerful, solid blocker but no threat to touch the ball.
Fr TB Dimitri Linton wasted his freshman redshirt season in sparse duty. An early season injury to Leonard prompted Schiano to shuttle four players through the TB position, vainly searching for an answer but failing to give anybody a sustained opportunity. Linton was one of the four. He received a handful of carries on, predictably, outside runs. It was another in a long list of unwisely burned redshirts by Schiano. If Linton pans out, Schiano will bemoan the fifth year Dimitri won't get.
Fr FB Jean Beljour arrived as a RB but was expected to play safety given the logjam at RB and the apparent dearth of talent at safety. Didn't happen. Schiano burned Beljour's redshirt on special teams and later played Jean at FB against Syracuse in an effort to inject more athleticism at FB. Ver Steeg predictably threw play action drag routes to Beljour when he played FB, continuing a disturbing pattern whereby player substitution telegraphed plays to opponents. Beljour contributed a whopping three receptions in exchange for his redshirt. Great deal.
Schiano has yet to find a feature TB in four seasons. Schiano has perhaps the nation's best FB but wastes his ability playing him out of position at TB. Between Leonard, Hairston, Medley, and Beljour, the FB position is covered even in Hairston transfers. And then some. All four can play the position effectively. However, the TB position is still a mess. Leonard is more effective as a multi-purpose FB – blocker, receiver, single back, and short yardage TB. The remaining TBs were unremarkable this past year. Schiano still needs a strong, fast TB who can run inside, run outside, and catch passes. He also still needs a reliable third down specialist who can make plays out of the backfield. Neither of those roles was filled adequately. Ideally, Schiano needs to fill each of these roles.
Coming Next: Rutgers Recruiting Needs, Part 4. Rutgers is loaded at receiver. It is the one position group that is well stocked with talent. Are there any needs at receiver?
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