RUTGERS RECRUITING NEEDS
Part 2: Offensive Linemen
During Head Coach Greg Schiano's five years on the Banks, the OLine has been the most tenuous unit on his team. It has lacked talent. It has lacked depth. It has had four position coaches. And its performance has fluctuated from impotent to good. Although Schiano badly neglected his OLine in his early years, he has finally begun to stockpile talent. After inheriting a dilapidated OLine, Schiano recruited only ten OL in his first three classes, of who five were write-offs. In his last two classes, Schiano has recruited nine OL, of whom three have contributed already. The 2005 OLine was the most athletic unit that Rutgers had deployed in over ten years. OLine Coach Kyle Flood has been an impressive addition to the staff, dramatically improving the performance of the unit in his first year at Rutgers. This article, the second in a series of eight evaluating the recruiting needs of the 2006 Class, looks at the foundation of the offense – the OLine.
RS Sr RG John Glass was the best OL in the program since he arrived in 2002 as a transfer from Division II New Haven. Glass immediately earned a starting job once he was eligible in 2003 spring camp. He immediately upgraded the talent level of the OLine and anchored the unit. Glass earned Second Team All-Big East honors in 2004 and First Team laurels last year. The departure of this three-year starter will leave a gaping hole on the right side of the OLine.
RS Sr RT Sameeh McDonald was the only Schiano high school recruit to contribute meaningfully from the first two recruiting classes. After redshirting as a freshman, McDonald was a backup in 2002 and a co-starter at RT in 2003. Sameeh assumed the full-time starting RT job in 2004 but suffered a knee injury that cost him a few games and subsequently limited his effectiveness. McDonald again teamed with Glass in 2004 to give Rutgers a veteran right side but continued to be hampered by knee problems that reduced him to the weak link last year. As with Glass, McDonald's experience and leadership will be difficult to replace.
So LG Jeremy Zuttah was the jewel of the 2004 recruiting class. Zuttah practiced at every position on the OLine in 2004 summer camp and emerged as a utility backup. Jeremy started five games at three positions – RT (1), LG (3), and LT (1). With the OLine solidifying last season, Zuttah was able to concentrate his efforts on one position – LG. Jeremy missed three games late in the year with an ankle injury. Though lacking the experience of Glass and McDonald, Zuttah was Flood's most athletic OL and, as such, nicely complimented the veterans on the right side. With the departure of Glass and McDonald, Zuttah likely will emerge as the leader of the OLine and will contend for All-Big East honors.
Jr C Darnell Stapleton was a two-year starter at C and OT at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY, where he earned First Team All-Conference honors in 2004. He enrolled at Rutgers for summer school and participated in voluntary summer workouts with the team. As a New York JUCO summer enrollee, he was not expected to contribute last year. Instead, Darnell earned the starting center job in summer camp and capably manned the position last year, answering one of two daunting questions about the OLine. With a full year in the program, he should be even better next year.
RS So 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 preserved his redshirt. Sosa played briefly in 2004 as an injury replacement but struggled in his first – and only – action. He subsequently dropped to ninth in the playing rotation and did not play. Sosa laid claim to the starting LT job in spring camp last year and, once the season started, answered the other looming question about the OLine. He performed solidly at LT on his QBs blind side and, with Zuttah, gave Rutgers an athletic left side of the OLine.
RS So RT/LG Mike Fladdell was lightly recruited out of New York City and was considered a project not likely to contribute for until his third year. He redshirted as a freshman and did not play in his second year. Fladdell emerged last year in his crucial third year. A rash of injuries on the OLine created an opportunity to play during spring camp last year. Fladdell practiced as the starting RT in the absence of McDonald. Mike spent most of the season as McDonald's backup. However, Fladdell slid over to RG to start in place of the injured Zuttah in three of the final four regular season games. Fladdell will likely compete for both open starting jobs – RG and RT. Even if unsuccessful, he is expected to contribute on the two-deep.
RS Fr LG Mike Gilmartin signed with Rutgers after initially committing to South Carolina. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2004 and missed some of spring camp with a minor knee injury. Gilmartin returned for summer camp and earned the backup RG job behind Glass. Gilmartin started against Buffalo while Glass was suspended. He will compete with Fladdell for the starting LG job but will likely play on the two-deep regardless of the outcome.
RS Fr LT Corey Hyman was the second true freshman OL to see action in 2004 when 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 players as a backup OG. However, his playing time was limited and a redshirt would have been preferable. Hyman missed spring camp last year with a shoulder injury that was not fully healed by summer camp. As a result, Corey took a redshirt year although he was listed on the two-deep. He is expected to battle Fladdell for the starting RT job. He will certainly contribute on the two-deep.
RS So OG Dan Mazan transferred to Rutgers in 2004 after redshirting as a freshman at Penn State in 2003. Mazan missed much of his freshman year with a shoulder injury, which he continued to rehabilitate in 2004. Mazan missed spring practice last year while recovering from another shoulder surgery. Expected to compete for the open starting center job, Mazan was moved to OG in summer camp, where he earned the backup RG job behind Zuttah. However, when Zuttah missed three games with an ankle injury, Fladdell slid over to RG and played ahead of Mazan. Mazan did not contribute as a third-year player, which is not an encouraging sign. Mazan will compete for a backup job on the two-deep but he will have to hold off the crop of second-year players. He may be a write-off.
Fr OT Dave McClain initially committed to Maryland but reopened his recruiting in October. Dave graduated high school a semester early and enrolled at Rutgers for the spring semester, which enabled him to participate in spring camp last year. With a rash of injuries at center, McClain saw action in spring camp as the backup center. The arrival of Stapleton in summer camp dropped McClain off the depth chart and he redshirted while practicing with the scout team. He is expected to compete for a backup job at center or OG in spring camp.
Fr OL Nate Nurse signed with Wisconsin last year but was denied admission. He instead enrolled at Rutgers. Nate was among the best recruits of the 2005 class. He redshirted last season and practiced on the scout team. Unlike his fellow second-year peers, he is expected to win a job on the two deep in spring camp.
Fr OL Ryan Blaszczyk redshirted last season and practiced with the scout team. Blaszczyk will have an opportunity to compete for a backup job in spring camp. However, given the lack of depth at DT, Ryan could be switched to the DLine.
Fr OL Kevin Haslam redshirted last season and practiced on the scout team. He will also compete for a backup job on the OLine in spring camp. However, the recent influx of young talent has suddenly rendered backup opportunities scarce.
RS So DT Carl Howard transferred to Rutgers in 2004 after signing with Virginia Tech that same year. He requested his release during summer camp and transferred into Rutgers in time to enroll for the start of the fall semester. As such, his freshman redshirt also satisfied NCAA transfer requirements. Departures and injuries afforded Carl a substantial opportunity in spring camp last year. He played well in the Spring Game. With only two experienced DTs on the roster, Howard was expected to play on the two deep. However, he barely saw the field even though injuries further devastated the DT rotation. He reportedly was switched to the OLine in December. Howard has long impressed people with his size, strength, and speed. However, he also has an All-Airport reputation. Regardless of his position – offense or defense – he is not expected to contribute.
RS Jr C William Vogt supposedly was the heir apparent to former starter Marty P'zmuka at center. Yet a suspended converted DT, a quickly converted TE, a New York JUCO, and a walk-on converted DT easily beat Vogt, in succession, for a place on the two deep over the past two years. Although listed on the two-deep for most of his career, Vogt rarely played. Written off as a non-contributor, Vogt was not asked back for his fifth season, which is standard practice for players not on the two-deep.
RS Jr OG Randy Boxill enrolled in spring 2002 after failing to qualify to play at Miami in 2001. Boxill arrived on the Banks with high expectations but never realized them after immediately suffering an ACL injury in 2002 spring camp. Boxill received a medical redshirt in 2002 while rehabilitating the knee injury. He did not play in 2003 or again in 2004, when two true freshman and a converted JUCO DT played ahead of him. In his last chance to contribute, Randy cracked the two-deep in spring camp last year and played reasonably well in the Spring Game. Expected to make the two-deep, he suddenly he quit the team in the summer. Long since recruited over, his loss merely opens another scholarship for a player with a better chance to contribute.
Schiano returns three starters, who possess a combined total of only 38 career starts, from an OLine that improved dramatically last season. After averaging 84 rushing yards per game in 2004, which ranked #113 nationally (out of 117 Division IA teams), the Scarlet Knights rushed for 162 yards per game this year (#42 nationally). The OLine demonstrated the ability to take control of games. Five years into his reign, Schiano is finally at the point where he can build depth on the OLine. The loss of two starters with over five years of combined starting experience will be difficult to replace. Flood has only one experienced backup to fill the void. Nonetheless, the task is not as daunting as last year when Flood had only one experienced backup for three open starting jobs. December was – and spring camp will be – important opportunities for Flood to rebuild his starting unit and fill his second team. Flood has two more potential contributors who have played and four rising second year players to provide depth. The number of non-contributors has been whittled down to two. While the crisis on the OLine has apparently passed, there is still 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 OLine. JUCO quick fixes are no longer necessary. These OL recruits should be high school seniors.
Coming Next: Rutgers Recruiting Needs, Part 3. After years of anemic rushing, Schiano featured one of the best backfields in Rutgers history. While the starting lineup is set, the backups barely contributed. What are needs to complement the potent starting lineup?
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