SPRING PREVIEW –RECEIVING CORPS
Spring football camp opened last Saturday to a deafening silence. Head Coach Greg Schiano has closed camp to the public. Even media coverage has been negligible. In the absence of news coming out of camp, I continue my spring preview. This article is the fourth of an eight-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it entered spring camp. The first three segments previewed the offensive line, quarterbacks, and running backs. The last offensive unit to address is the receiving corps. This preview is based upon information released only prior to the opening of spring camp. My thoughts likewise share the same perspective. The article reviews roster changes and injuries. The article also identifies issues that need to be addressed in spring practice.
The receiving corps was clearly the best unit on the Rutgers team last season. The Scarlet Knights placed two receivers on the All-Big East First Team and likely had the best receiving squad in the league. One player recorded the second highest reception total in Big East history while breaking the Rutgers single season record for receptions and receiving yardage. The TE was second in the nation's TEs in receiving yardage and third in receptions. Rutgers was ranked #6 (out of 117 Division IA teams) in passing offense (up from #45). Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg will deploy 2TE, 3WR, and 4WR sets to compliment his base I formation. As such, a true two-deep among receivers includes six WRs and four TEs. The Scarlet Knights return nearly intact their receiving corps. Schiano found two playmakers last year. Now, he must build quality depth around them.
PLAYERS LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players lost off the 3WR, 2TE two-deep include:
- TE Chris Loomis (10 GP, 4 receptions for 50 yards, and 1 TD)
- WR Orlando Kane (10 GP and 2 receptions for 8 yards)
Chris Loomis played in six games as a freshman backup TE in 2001. Chris shared the backup TE job in 2002 as the receiving TE and started four games. A broken ankle suffered during summer conditioning cost Loomis summer camp and the first month of the 2003 season. Rather than redshirt, he returned in Game 4 but never fully recovered from the ankle injury and was limited to a backup role. The move of the incumbent starter to center last May provided an opportunity for increased playing time but Loomis was still relegated to the third TE. Loomis only contributed marginally after a promising freshman season.
Orlando Kane was academically ineligible as a freshman in 2003 and did not practice with the team. He joined the team last year in summer camp but had to learn the offense while working off the rust from a year out of football. Third on the depth chart at flanker, Kane didn't get a lot of opportunities with Tres Moses having an All-Big East season. Kane was dismissed from the program after the fall semester, allegedly because of academics.
RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players returning from the 3WR, 2TE two-deep include:
- RS Sr WR Tres Moses (11 GS, 81 receptions for 1,056 yards, and 5 TDs)
- RS Jr WR Shawn Tucker (2 GS and 6 receptions for 66 yards)
- RS Jr TE Clark Harris (11 GS, 53 receptions for 725 yards, and 5 TDs)
- RS Sr WR Chris Baker (5 S, 11 GP, 28 receptions for 308 yards, and 2 TDs)
- JR TE Sam Johnson (2 GS, 10 GP, 4 receptions for 44 yards, and one TD)
- Jr WR Marcus Daniels (3 GS, 10 GP, 23 receptions for 228 yards, and 2 TDs)
- Jr WR Willie Foster (1 GS, 11 GP, 11 receptions for 133 yards, and one TD)
Tres Moses was one of four true freshmen to make an impact in 2001, winning the 3WR job. Moses finished fourth in receptions (13) and receiving yardage (159). Tres never got untracked in 2002. First, a hamstring injury sidelined him in summer camp and then a bruised knee suffered in Game 3 ended his season with a medical redshirt. In 2003, Moses became a playmaker and led the receiving corps in receptions (52) and TDs (5). He was also a reliable 3rd down receiver, demonstrating a knack for picking up tough yards after the catch to move the chains. Tres further elevated his performance last year, earning First Team All-Big East honors, setting Rutgers season records for receptions (first in the Big East and eighth nationally) and receiving yardage (second in the Big East and eleventh nationally), and recording the second highest catch total in Big East history. His competition lies with the top receivers in the country.
Shawn Tucker emerged as a starting WR as a true freshman in 2002 after injuries sidelined the two starters (Moses and Baker). Tucker finished fourth in receptions (21) and receiving yards (195). He easily retained his starting job in 2003 and led the team in receiving yardage (726) though playing much of the season with a groin injury. Shawn missed spring camp last year while recovering from groin surgery. However, he re-injured his groin in Week 2 and took a medical redshirt. Tucker will again miss spring camp while still rehabilitating from groin surgery. He is expected to be ready for summer camp but his health is an ongoing concern.
Clark Harris redshirted as a freshman in 2002 and practiced with the scout team. After a strong 2003 spring camp, Harris – the best receiver – split TE duties with Ray Pilch – the best blocker. Clark was the fourth leading receiver in both catches (18) and yardage (213) and first among Rutgers TEs. Harris assumed the starting job after Schiano switched Pilch to TE last summer. Clark earned First Team All-Big East honors while leading the league in receptions (third nationally) and receiving yardage (second nationally) among TEs. However, his run blocking was inadequate and principally contributed to the inability of the offense to execute the bread-n-butter Power G running play (pulling guard leading TB off-tackle). Clark must improve his run blocking if he is to move into the upper echelon of TEs nationally.
Chris Baker was academically ineligible as a true freshman in 2001 but he practiced as the scout team QB. In 2002 spring camp Schiano switched Baker to WR, where Chris' height and athleticism offered him a better chance to contribute, after Baker failed to crack the two-deep at QB. Hamstring injuries to two expected starters in summer camp created a further opportunity that Baker seized. He started for the first five games before a stress fracture in his foot ended his season prematurely. Baker competed for the vacant starting QB job in 2003 spring camp but could not even unseat the incumbent backup QB. He returned unhappily to WR in summer camp but never played. After an uneventful 2004 spring camp, Baker was not expected to contribute. However, Tucker's injury created yet another opportunity and Baker eventually emerged as the starter opposite Moses. Chris finished fourth in receptions and yardage. Baker regained his lost year of eligibility in the classroom and will return for a fifth season. He is expected to contribute on the two-deep, especially if Tucker does not fully recover.
Sam Johnson played early as a freshman in 2003 after injury knocked Loomis out of the playing rotation before summer camp even started. Sam played in ten games as the third TE; his skills as both a blocker and receiver earned him playing time in 2TE formations. The sudden removal of Pilch from the TE rotation last spring created an opportunity for increased playing time as the blocking TE. Johnson beat Loomis for the backup job but didn't play much behind Harris despite Harris' deficiency as a blocker. With the departure of Loomis, Johnson is a lock for the backup TE job. His playing time will be largely dependent upon his blocking ability and the use of the 2TE formation.
Marcus Daniels cracked the two-deep in 2003 summer camp as a freshman and eventually earned the 3WR job. Expected to emerge as a contributor last year, Marcus was displaced by Baker in the pecking order and had a disappointing season, often demonstrating a soft steak. Rumors emerged after the season that Daniels may transfer. Marcus' status may not be confirmed until summer camp. In the meantime, he will compete with Baker for the 3WR job. Marcus has a good combination of size and speed. Ver Steeg needs to figure out how to better capitalize on that ability than simply running hitch routes.
Willie Foster, a high school teammate of Daniels, was expected to redshirt as a freshman in 2003. However, Foster capitalized upon Baker's slow start in summer camp and earned the fifth WR slot and saw some action. Foster seemed to emerge as a deep threat in spring camp last year but the inability of QB Ryan Hart to consistently complete deep passes limited Foster's effectiveness in that role. Foster was the backup flanker but didn't play much behind Moses. Willie was also rumored after the season to be a potential transfer candidate, along with Daniels. Foster s a lock for the backup flanker job. Assuming he is still here. The receiving corps will take a tremendous hit if both Daniels and Foster transfer.
NEW CANDIDATES FOR THE TWO-DEEP
Players trying to crack the two-deep include:
Brad Listorti redshirted as a freshman in 2003 at the crowded TE position. With three experienced players ahead of him on the depth chart, Listorti only saw action on special teams last year. With the departure of Loomis, Listorti enters spring camp competing for the third TE job and a spot in the playing rotation.
Anthony Cali was recruited as a QB. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2002 and practiced as the scout team QB. Cali did not play in 2003 as the third team QB. With the departure of the backup QB creating an opening last spring, Cali appeared to win the backup QB job but was displaced by Chris Baker midway through the year. Anthony only saw action as the holder for FGAs and XPAs. Schiano switched Cali to TE for spring camp. Undersized at 230 pounds, he likely won't earn playing time with his blocking and must prove himself to be a superior receiver to Listorti.
Keith Taylor redshirted last year and practiced on the scout team. He is not expected to contribute next season other than on special teams. However, with the absence of Tucker with a groin injury, Taylor may get an opportunity to impress the coaching staff in spring camp.
With the top five WRs and top two TEs returning, depth chart issues are secondary to the performance of the TEs in run blocking and the receivers in stretching the field vertically. Spring camp will offer some insight into Ver Steeg's commitment to stretching the field vertically and the effectiveness of the QBs in implementing this strategy. With respect to the depth chart, the following issues will be of particular interest in spring camp:
In the absence of Tucker, who among Baker and Daniels emerges as the starter
opposite Moses? How effectively does he compliment Moses?
Who among Listorti and Cali emerges as the third TE? Will they contribute?
Will Ver Steeg use 2TE formations as frequently with only two proven TEs?
Does Taylor look like a contributor this year?
Coming Next: Spring Preview, Part 5. I've finished with the offense. Now, it's time to punt and look at the defense. As with the offense, I'll up start up front in the trenches with the defensive line.
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