Rutgers Recruiting Needs -- Part 3

In his fifth season, Greg Schiano finally found a reliable backfield combination. Rutgers produced the most rushing yards since 1995. The starting backfield tandem was the second most productive in Rutgers history. Schiano returns both starters. Now, he must build depth behind those starters as the backups barely contributed. This article, the third in a series of eight evaluating the needs of the 2006 recruiting class, looks at the outstanding but thin stable of RBs.

RUTGERS RECRUITING NEEDS
Part 3:  Running Backs


In his fifth season on the Banks, Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano finally found a reliable backfield combination.  After eight different players had started at TB – including five first-year players – and none gained more than 900 yards in a single season, Rutgers produced the most rushing yards since 1995 (1,789 yards in the regular season).  His starting backfield tandem was the second most productive in Rutgers history.  Schiano returns both starters.  Now, he must build depth behind those starters, as the backups combined to contribute only 148 rushing yards and no receiving yards.  This article, the third in a series of eight evaluating the needs of the 2006 recruiting class, looks at the outstanding but thin stable of RBs. 


THE STARTERS

RS Jr FB Brian Leonard (12 GS, 173 carries for 740 yards and 11 TDs plus 55 receptions for 568 yards and 6 TDs) emerged as the starting FB in 2003, giving Schiano an athlete who could produce not only yardage but big plays.  Brian was a multi-purpose threat – blocker, receiver, short-yardage TB, and single RB.  He was pressed into duty as the starting TB midway though the season when the starter suffered a knee injury.  Surprisingly, Leonard opened the 2004 season still at TB.  He was listed as a FB.  And he earned First Team All-Big East and All-American honors as a FB while leading the Big East in all-purpose yardage.  But he spent the majority of his snaps at TB.  Last season, Brian returned to his natural multi-purpose FB role.  He also backed up the starting TB.  Although the emergence of a starting TB reduced Brian's workload, he still finished fourth in the Big East in all-purpose yardage and earned Second Team All-Big East laurels.  Leonard elected to postpone the NFL for another year and will return to Rutgers for his fifth season. 

Fr TB Raymell Rice (5 GS, 12 GP, 195 carries for 1,120 yards and 5 TDs plus 8 receptions for 65 yards) quickly seized the starting TB job in summer camp last year.  Many feared the promotion merely reflected Schiano's infatuation with the latest "new guy".  Rice quickly silenced the doubters with a strong debut, a 100 yard effort in his fourth game, and a 200 yard day in his seventh game.  He finished the season as Rutgers' first 1,000 yard rusher since 1994.  Rice is a perfect complement to Leonard and gives Schiano arguably the best starting backfield in the Big East.  


THE BACKUPS

RS Sr FB Ishmael Medley (12 GP) was a career backup and special teams player.  He was recruited as a LB and redshirted in 2001.  Unable to break the two-deep in 2002 at LB, Medley was moved to FB in 2003 summer camp.  He shared backup duties for two years and was the primary backup last year.  He was used almost exclusively as a blocker, with only four receptions and two carries in three years.  Medley was a tough blocker but was not a playmaker that opposing defenses had to defend. 

RS Sr TB Clarence Pittman (11 GP and 9 carries for 68 yards) drew raves as an academically ineligible freshman on the scout team.  But he never lived up to his advance billing.  Pittman started six games in 2002 and three more in 2003.  His workload virtually vanished after September 2003 as he was relegated to backup duties behind two freshmen.  Clarence regained his lost year of eligibility in the classroom and returned for a fifth season.  But he was almost exclusively a special teams player last season. 

So FB Jean Beljour (12 GP) has been a special teams player for two years, wasting a potentially valuable redshirt year in the process.  He showed promise in the spring game last year but didn't receive any touches as a backup FB.  Even when Leonard was at TB.  With the departure of Medley, Beljour is expected to assume backup duties behind Leonard next year and should increase the playmaking potential of the FB while Leonard is at TB.  As the heir apparent to Leonard, Beljour will have only one year of eligibility as the starter. 

Sr TB Markis Facyson (10 GP and 8 carries for 11 yards) started five games as a true freshman in 2002 but nagging injuries plagued his career.  Markis' role was reduced to that of a third down specialist in 2003 and 2004.  His playing time diminished to nil by the end of the 2004 season as a result of soft play.  He was almost exclusively a special teams player last season. 

Jr FB Justise Hairston (1 GS) was the latest new guy to emerge as the starting TB as a freshman in 2003.  After an impressive start, he missed the second half of the 2003 season with a knee injury.  Hairston lost his starting job to Leonard in 2004 and poor play eventually cost him further playing time at TB.  Late in the 2004 season, Schiano moved Hairston to FB to compensate for the loss of Leonard's athleticism at the position.  Hairston missed much of spring camp last year with an ankle injury and was buried on the depth chart in summer camp.  He started the game at Connecticut likely as a courtesy in his home state.  He contributed negligibly and was suspended late in the year.  He did not join the team at the Insight Bowl.  He is not expected to return next year. 

RS Fr TB Dimitri Linton played sparsely as a true freshman in 2004.  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.  Linton missed spring camp last year with a knee injury and was again injured in summer camp.  He redshirted last year and represents the only other experienced TB in the program behind Rice (and Leonard).  Dimitri will get a chance to earn playing time as a third down scat back. 

Fr TB Davon Smart redshirted last year as a true freshman and practiced with the scout team.  He is currently listed on the roster as a RB/DB.  Spring camp will reveal more about Smart's future – both where and how much he will play.  He too will get a chance as a third down specialist. 


 
CONCLUSION

Schiano returns an experienced and productive starting backfield.  But backups are unproven and the options presently are few.  Years of poor development at the TB position produced a stockpile of backs that weren't going to play, justly or unjustly.  Beljour should provide an answer as the backup FB but has only two years of eligibility remaining.  Schiano needs a strong, fast TB who can run inside, run outside, and catch passes.  He also needs a athletic FB who can block, catch, and run inside.  A third down specialist is also a lesser need.  Schiano currently has verbal commitments from TB Edmond Laryea of Tottenville HS in Staten Island, NY and FB Jack Corcoran of St. Joseph HS in Hammonton, NJ.  Since Laryea is viewed a potential FB/TB hybrid, ala Leonard, a pure TB may yet be added to the class. 

Coming Next:  Rutgers Recruiting Needs, Part 4.  Schiano filled his pressing needs at receiver four years ago.  This position is now in maintenance mode.  

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the 2006 recruiting class with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.


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