SPRING PREVIEW – QUARTERBACKS
Recent departures on the Rutgers coaching staff prompted Head Coach Greg Schiano to postpone the start of spring camp three weeks to March 26th. Mercifully, that bought me some time to prepare my annual spring preview. This article is the second of an eight-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it enters spring camp. The first article looked at the offensive line. Next up – the QBs. The article reviews roster changes and injuries. The article also identifies issues that need to be addressed in spring practice.
One year after appearing resolved, the QB situation was again in turmoil last season. The absence of an effective running game put too much pressure on a QB not equipped to carry the offense. While Rutgers was able to maintain its total offensive output through greater passing, the cost of that imbalance was higher TOs. The result was record attempts, completions, and yardage. But also record INTs. The completion rate increased from 59% to 65%. Passing yardage jumped almost 30% to 311 yards per game (from 240). An passing attack that among the nation's worst two years ago was now ranked among the nation's best. Rutgers was ranked #6 (out of 117 Division IA teams) in passing offense (up from #45), #40 in total offense (up from #67), but #66 in scoring offense (down from #55) and #115 in INTs. For the fourth consecutive season, Schiano failed to give his backup QBs appreciable playing time, even in blowouts. The result is that Schiano enters spring camp still looking for an answer at QB with only one experienced starter and two inexperienced backups.
PLAYER LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Both QBs return from the two-deep.
RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP
- Sr QB Ryan Hart (11 G, 295 of 453 for 3,154 yards, 17 TDs, and 19 INTs)
- RS So QB Terrence Shawell (3 GP, 8 of 17 for 213 yards and 2 TDs)
Ryan Hart arrived on the banks with little acclaim but beat the local recruit for the third team QB job. Expected to redshirt, Hart received an early baptism under fire when the starting QB suffered a potentially season-ending injury in Game 8 and the backup was ineffective in relief. Hart started the final four games of the 2002 season. Ryan cemented his grip on the starting job in 2003 spring camp after the heretofore "QB of the future" transferred. Hart started every game in 2003 but performed inconsistently in operating a new offense. He proved capable of moving the offense but made too many mistakes – tying a school record for INTs. Nonetheless, Hart had a record-setting year (attempts, completions, and yardage). He again started every game last season but still performed inconsistently and continued to make debilitating mistakes of both judgment and execution. Though Hart recorded prolific passing statistics – breaking his own records for attempts, completions, and yardage – he again tied the record for INTs. Ryan also committed five fumbles. Hart still lacks an experienced competitor for the starting job, which is his to lose. Hart must improve his decision-making and deep passing while reducing his INTs.
Terrence Shawell redshirted as a true freshman in 2002 and practiced as the scout team QB. Despite unimpressive spring and summer camps, which included a temporary departure from the team in August, Shawell earned the backup QB job during the first month of the season. Early playing time never materialized as Rutgers struggled with its lightweight non-conference opponents. A further opportunity was wasted against Pittsburgh though Rutgers trailed by five TDs at halftime. Terrence played one snap at Pittsburgh, a few mop-up series at Navy, and three meaningful series against Connecticut. Shawell enters spring camp as a still-unproven commodity. He should get plenty of repetitions but will have to hold off an expected challenge from Mike Teel.
CANDIDATE FOR THE TWO-DEEP
Mike Teel suffered a high ankle sprain in a summer high school all-star game last summer and missed summer camp as a true freshman. He was expected to compete for the backup QB job immediately but the ankle sprain ended any questions about redshirting. Mike practiced as the scout team QB. Teel will compete with Shawell for the backup QB job.
The performance of the QB last season was compromised by an ineffective running game. Without balance, the passing game – though compiling impressive statistics – was unable to carry the offense. And no other options emerged to a struggling QB. Of particular interest in spring camp will be the following:
- Can Hart complete passes to receivers downfield?
- Can the QBs throw half as many INTs as TDs?
- How do the backup QBs perform? Can the backup QBs move the offense? Complete at least 60% of their passes? Do they force passes into tight coverage? Do they find their safety valve receivers more often when pressured to throw away the ball?
- Will Shawell or Teel emerge as the backup QB? Will he challenge Hart?
Coming Next: Part 3 of my Spring Preview. The running game was a disaster again. The power running attack could not gain reliable yardage against opposing defenses stacked inside to stop them. The failure of a legitimate TB to emerge forced Schiano to employ a FB at TB, with the resulting limitations.
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