Into the stretch. We're almost home. This article is the seventh of an eight-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it entered spring camp. The first three segments previewed the defense. The next three looked at the offensive line, quarterbacks, and running backs. The last 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 at the outset of spring camp. The article also identifies issues that needed to be addressed in spring practice and were observed by fans at the practices and scrimmages. This belated preview still offers some useful insights into spring camp because it allows the reader, with a post-camp perspective, to answer questions developed before camp opened.
Since the arrival of Terry Shea six years ago, Rutgers has been a pass-oriented team. The replacement of Shea with OC Bill Cubit has not altered that philosophy appreciably. Cubit uses multiple WR and TE formations – 3WR, 4WR, 5WR, 2TE, and 3TE. However, given this extended emphasis upon the passing game, first with the west coast offense and then with the spread offenses, Rutgers has not exactly been loaded at WR or TE in either talent or depth. Rutgers has not had an All-Big East WR or TE in years. And Shea left Cubit with only 6 WRs who had started a total of 15 games. Talent and depth at WR is still a big concern. Because Cubit uses multiple receiver formations so frequently, both 3WR and 2TE permutations of the two-deep will be analyzed.
PLAYERS LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players lost off the 3WR and 2TE two-deep include:
- Sr WR Delrico Fletcher (10 GS and 19 receptions for 200 yards)
- Sr WR David Stringer (1 GS, 11 GP, and 4 receptions for 33 yards)
- Sr TE Rob Ring (7 GS)
Delrico Fletcher played in 8 games as a freshman backup WR, catching 10 passes for 141 yards. Fletcher missed the 1998 season with an ankle injury and received a medical redshirt. He was academically ineligible the following season. Returning after a two-year absence, Fletcher worked all season to eventually regain a spot on the 3WR two-deep. He played in 10 games but caught only 6 passes for 62 yards. With two starters departed and a potential starter dismissed, Fletcher seized the opportunity last summer and won a starting job at WR opposite Aaron Martin. However, Fletcher had an underwhelming season. For much of the season, the only stir surrounding Fletcher was whether his yards per catch average would be positive or negative since his primary route was bubble screens, which lost yardage more often than not. Fletcher's absence won't be missed.
David Stringer transferred to Rutgers after two years at North Carolina State. As a junior, he started one game as the 3WR and played in every game, catching 12 passes for 175 yards. Stringer entered summer camp last year competing for a starting job but played as a seldom-used backup. Stringer's contributions won't be missed either.
Rob Ring had a career that mirrored that of FB Seth Stanton – he was a blocking TE more suited for a power running offense than for a finesse passing game. Ring played in only two games as a freshman. As a sophomore, he played in 6 games and caught only 3 passes. As a junior, Ring played in every game (including one start in a 2TE formation) but only caught 4 passes. Last season, Ring saw more action because OC Bill Cubit used 2TE and 3TE formations more frequently. Ring started 7 games as the 2TE but didn't catch any passes. As with Stanton, Ring's contributions won't be missed.
RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players returning from the 3WR and 2TE two-deep include:
- Sr WR Aaron Martin (11 GS and 25 receptions for 523 yards)
- So WR Tres Moses (10 GS, 11 GP, and 13 receptions for 159 yards)
- RS Sr TE LJ Smith (11 GS and 30 receptions for 282 yards)
- Sr WR Josh Hobbs (8 GP and 4 receptions for 25 yards)
- So WR Jerry Andre (9 GP and 2 receptions for 27 yards)
- Jr TE Eddie Jordan (8 GP)
- So TE Chris Loomis (6 GP and 1 reception for 39 yards)
Aaron Martin showed potential as a freshman in summer camp. At 6'4" tall, Martin possessed the size and ability to outjump DBs for high passes. Martin played in every game (2 starts) and caught 8 passes for 112 yards. After the summer camp hype, Shea forgot about Martin. As a sophomore, Martin was still a backup WR and received few opportunities even though starters were dropping passes all season long. He caught 13 passes for 244 yards. With the departure of two starting WRs and dismissal of a backup WR, Martin earned a starting job in summer camp last season. Martin was QBit's favorite big play target. He led the team in receiving yardage and was second in receptions. Martin dominated against weak opponents but was not a playmaker against Big East caliber opposition. Despite that limitation, Martin is a lock for a starting job at WR. But he must step up against better competition.
WR Tres Moses was one of the four true freshmen to make an impact last season, along with Alfred Peterson, Ryan Cubit, and Brad Cunningham. Moses quickly asserted himself in summer camp and won a starting job as the 3WR. Since OC Bill Cubit used multiple WR formations frequently, Moses saw many snaps on the field. Moses finished third in receptions. Moses is also a lock for a starting job opposite Martin. Last season, Moses showed glimpses of brilliance while running after the catch with his ability to make tacklers miss. Now he needs to make the next steps to "go to" receiver and playmaker.
LJ Smith was academically ineligible as a freshman and did not practice with the team. Rutgers headed into the 1999 season with its top two TEs departed and the only experienced TE – sophomore Rob Ring – having seen minimal action. Smith had a huge debut, scoring a TD in the season opener, from which he emerged as the 1st team TE. Smith started the remaining 10 games and caught 26 passes for 418 yards. Smith entered his sophomore campaign as a preseason 2nd team All-Big East selection but never realized the expectations. Though he started 10 games and was the featured receiver, Smith caught only 34 passes for 374 yards. Dropped passes and dogged routes were the only real features. Smith returned for his senior season rededicated and ready to resurrect his reputation. More than ever before, Smith was the feature player, especially once TB Dennis Thomas was slowed with a knee injury. Opponents double-teamed Smith and took him out of the offense. OC Bill Cubit never used Smith on seam routes to stretch the middle of the field. Instead, Cubit moved Smith to FB to get him more touches. Smith led the team in receptions and was second in receiving yardage. Smith is the biggest locks for the starting lineup. His competition lies with the top TEs in the Big East.
Josh Hobbs arrived as the least promising of a group of four freshmen WRs in 1999. Briefly switched to safety in summer camp in response to a rash of season-ending injuries, Hobbs returned to WR for the season. Playing catch-up, he saw action in 8 games and caught only 3 passes for 41 yards. When Shea switched to a spread offense the following year, Hobbs earned a starting job as the 3WR. He played in 10 games (starting at least 5) and caught 17 passes for 235 yards. The head coaching change didn't appreciably change the offense – a 3WR scheme was still a primary feature. However, Hobbs lost his starting job even though two starters departed and a potential starter was dismissed. As a backup WR, Hobbs barely contributed before injuring his knee late in the season. Hobbs likely will be competing with Jerry Andre for the starting job as the 3WR.
Jerry Andre, with fellow freshman Tres Moses, arrived at summer camp competing for one open space on the 3WR two-deep. When summer camp closed, Moses had sewn up the starting 3WR job and Andre landed on the 3WR 2nd team. As the sixth receiver in a 3WR rotation, Andre saw fewer snaps than his fellow backups and his contributions were minor. Andre enters spring camp competing for an open slot on the 3WR 1st team.
Chris Loomis was only one of four Terry Shea recruits to whom Head Coach Greg Schiano offered a scholarship. Loomis opened the season as the fifth TE. As the season progressed, Loomis moved up the depth chart and saw increasingly more action. His 30-yard reception in the season finale was one of the longest receptions of the season. Loomis is battling Eddie Jordan for the starting job as the 2TE.
Eddie Jordan was a 2nd team WOLB as a true freshman. A knee injury limited him to 7 games, in which he recorded 4 tackles. Schiano switched Jordan to TE in 2001 spring camp but a ruptured intestine sidelined him through summer camp. Jordan returned for Game 3 but provided zero production from his backup TE position. Jordan is battling Loomis for the 1st team 2TE spot opposite LJ Smith.
NEW CANDIDATES FOR THE TWO-DEEP
Players trying to crack the two-deep include:
- Sr WR Sean Carty (11 GP and 5 receptions for 40 yards)
- RS Fr Bryan Wilson (redshirt)
Senior WR Sean Carty is the sixth WR on the roster and makes the 3WR two-deep for spring camp virtually by default. In three seasons, Carty received much more press in camp than during the season. As a freshman, in a WR corps severely lacking depth, Carty played in every game (2 starts) and caught 11 passes for 177 yards. However, Carty displayed a problem that has haunted him for three years – dropped balls. As a sophomore, Carty drew rave reviews from Terry Shea in summer camp but the dropsies returned once the games started. Though seeing action in every game, he caught only 3 passes and primarily served as a very shaky backup punt returner. Carty again showed promise in summer camp last season but was still dropping balls in games. He played in every game but made only a slight contribution at WR. And Carty eventually lost his punt returner job to Tres Moses. The departure of Fletcher opened a starting job at the 3WR. Don't expect Carty to fill it. But, the lack of bodies should keep him on the 3WR two-deep, at least through spring camp.
Bryan Wilson was redshirted last season while fellow true freshmen Moses and Andre played. With only 6 scholarship WRs on the spring camp roster, Wilson is nearly guaranteed a slot on the 3WR two-deep. But, considering that only one returning WR averaged more than 2 receptions per game, spring camp will provide Wilson with an opportunity to make a big jump up the depth chart.
The receiving corps was notable last season for its inability to make plays. In my defensive previews, I stated that the defense was less worse than the offense last season. One can't truthfully use degrees of "good" to describe either unit. Rutgers ranked last in the Big East in passing defense (190 yards per game) and 7th in INTs (10). Although the pass defense ranked only 27th nationally, a porous rushing defense and a schedule loaded with rush-oriented opponents conspired to provide an illusion of performance where there really was the path less futile resistance. While the secondary still appears to be the least questionable unit on the defense, the performance of the receiving corps in spring camp against a secondary that is nonetheless suspect can hardly be used as a barometer of quality. While I would expect the secondary to outperform the receiving corps, total domination by the secondary will be cause for concern. Because our secondary is still likely to be in the lower half of the conference.
Lack of quality depth at receiver, relative to the performance of the 1st team, was a major problem last season. The purpose of multiple receiver formations is too spread the defense out while spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers. But it is nearly impossible to realize that objective with a receiving corps that possesses only two viable receiving threats. Will QB Ryan Cubit continue to rely upon two primary targets or will other receivers emerge as reliable targets?
The evolution of the depth chart will be the most telling development of the receiving corps in spring camp. OC Bill Cubit must find playmakers. Of particular interest in the receiving corps will be the following:
- With the exception of Aaron Martin and LJ Smith, no receivers' place on the depth chart is secure.
- Who will emerge opposite LJ Smith as the 2TE?
- Will underclassmen Jerry Andre and/or Bryan Wilson pass veterans Josh Hobbs and Sean Carty on the depth chart?
- Will QB Chris Baker, scheduled to get reps at WR, be a factor on the depth chart?
Coming Next: Final Part of my Spring Preview. The first seven parts of this series reviewed each of three defensive and four offensive units on the team. The last part will tie it all together and take a big picture look at key issues that were my focus during spring camp.
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