This article is the second of a six-part series previewing the 2006 Rutgers football team. In our initial look, we traversed about the OL, looked at the key players coming back and those that may make a run at the 2-deep during 2006. In this second part, we'll continue our preview series with a look at the QBs and RBs.
2006 PREVIEW – QUARTERBACKS
PLAYER LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Sr. QB Ryan Hart (2005 stats: 10 G, 155 - 255 for 2,135 yards, 18 TDs, and 8 INTs)
The 2005 season saw a marked increase in production from incumbent Ryan Hart. The QB position as a whole, however, saw a decrease in its production as compared to the 2004 season. There were two reasons for this. First, the Rutgers offense produced a significantly more balanced attack in '05 than it was able to generate in '04, producing more yards on the ground and eating more clock as a result. The total number of plays decreased from 840 (2004) to 811 (2005) while the average output per play increased from 5.2 yards (2004) to 5.9 (2005), signifying a clear increase in offensive efficiency. Now departed QB Ryan Hart significantly improved upon his TD-to-INT ratio, producing a better than 2:1 ratio while leading his team to the Insight Bowl during his last stint as a collegiate QB.
RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP
RS So. QB Mike Teel (2005 stats: 9 G, 51 - 101 for 683 yards, 2 TDs, and 10 INTs)
Second, RS Fr. QB Mike Teel did not leave a generally fuzzy feeling during his first opportunities as a collegiate QB. Teel saw his first action of the season in a 38-6 home opener blowout versus Villanova. Teel played well, completing 3 of 6 passes for 42 yards, guiding the team down the field in a 2nd quarter drive that resulted in a TD and a Scarlet Knight 24-6 lead. Teel was 3-5 during the 2nd quarter drive and despite a significant Scarlet Knight lead throughout the third and fourth quarters, would only see the field for one more series and attempt one more pass the rest of the way. The Buffalo game saw Teel attempt 2 passes, one of which was a hail-mary at the end of the second quarter that wound up in the opposition's hands. With the game in doubt for most of the rest of the way, Teel did not see further action.
The Villanova and Buffalo games served as tremendous opportunities for Mike Teel to gain significant experience as Hart's back-up. Hart would depart after the 2005 season and Rutgers could ill-afford to go into the subsequent season without a QB that had taken any game snaps. With the team playing far below its capability against the Bulls, Teel was given no more than a mere sniff against Buffalo. The entire fourth quarter, however, with Rutgers having seized a 38-6 lead after three quarters of play, could have easily belonged to the former Garden State HS standout. Instead, after the initial trio of games Teel had attempted a total of 8 passes and been in on two and one-half series (the one half resulting from the limited opportunity at the end of the first half against Buffalo). An important seasoning opportunity was lost.
RS Fr. QB Jabu Lovelace (2005 stats: did not see game action, redshirted the year and helped prepare the scout team)
Jabu Lovelace came to the Rutgers program as a relatively highly touted athletic-QB that sat out the 2005 season. Although RS So. Mike Teel was anointed as the RU starter for some time, it is implicit that Lovelace will see some time behind C during the upcoming year. His versatility at the position gives Rutgers an added dimension that it had hoped would have been available with the long-departed Terrence Shawell.
So. QB Domenic Natale (after initially committing to and signing with Michigan State out of The Hun, Natale decided to leave MSU and head back to New Jersey – Dom will have three years to play three after sitting out the 2006 season as required by NCAA regulations).
Fr. QB Tom Lang (Big QB that played at one of the premiere academic prep schools in the U.S. Lang wowed onlookers during his camp at Rutgers, soon received a ‘ship and committed not long afterwards. Lang is expected to sit out the 2006 season and compete for a spot on the 2-deep starting next year).
Fr. QB Chris Paul-Etienne (Standout performer with a literal gun for an arm at Miami-Edison Senior HS, Chris was equally impressive at one of RU's camps in FL as Lang was in NJ, and soon received an offer; widely regarded as having the strongest arm on the team, Chris suffered a severe knee injury in a post-season All-Star game last winter that put him somewhat behind schedule this year; Chris is fully healed, rehabbed but is expected to redshirt this year and will have a chance to compete for a spot on the 2-deep next year).
So. QB Andrew Depaola (Walk-on as a Tr Fr. last year, DePaola helped prepare the scout team for game week during his initial collegiate season).
While the overall performance of the QB position did not improve from 2004 to 2005 one of the primary reasons behind this points to an overall improved offensive attack. Keeping in mind that the QB position last year actually had a 1:1 TD-to-INT ratio (not exactly, but close enough), it becomes evident that the improvement that Teel needs to make from last to this year, for the team to have similar success, is possible. That is to say that the jump that needs to be made from slightly less than 1:5 to about 1:1, given the increased opportunity, should be expected given that Teel is now in his third year in the program.
As training camp winds down and the 2006 season is all but set to begin, there are a few questions that still require answering:
Teel can stretch the defense – that much, we know – can he use the entire field, including the short and mid-range as effectively?
The key to Teel's year is to discover his safety valve and when not able to do so, harmlessly toss the ball away from play – can Teel acquire and use this trait on a consistent basis, and thus limit mistakes?
Can Teel better a 1:1 TD-to-INT ratio? An even mark, given the offensive options, may be good enough (as was evident last year), but an improvement on that, closer to 2:1, would suggest something special may happen.
How do the backup QBs perform? Last year RU saw a total of 3
different players line up behind C – this year Scarlet Knight opponents
are likely to see at least 2.
2006 PREVIEW – RUNNING BACKS
Truth be told, the backfield situation at Rutgers has never been as good. The combination of power, finesse and speed has re-emerged in Piscataway and fastened to an improved offensive line now boasts impressive talent and depth. Rutgers RBs more than doubled their production in 2005, netting 1947 rushing yards (after subtraction of negative rushes) compared to only 918 the previous year. With the increased production, RU felt more comfortable in going to the well more often, increasing the number of attempts from 367 to 454. But the increase in production wasn't due solely to more carries, as the average per rush showed a dramatic improvement, increasing from 2.5 to 4.3. The average number of yards per game nearly doubled, increasing from 83.5ypg to 162.2ypg. Rutgers now had a potent rushing attack from which sprung a more balanced offense.
PLAYER LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
RS Sr. FB Brian Leonard (2005 stats: 12 G, 173 carries, 740yds, 11 TDs, 55 rec., 568yds, 6 TDs)
So. RB Raymell Rice (2005 stats: 12 G, 195 carries, 1120yds, 5 TDs, 8 rec., 65yds)
Brian Leonard (Sporting News and Phil Steele First Team Preseason All-American) was placed on the Preseason Maxwell Award Watch List, an award granted to the Collegiate Player of the Year. If the Maxwell Award was actually given to the collegiate player who exemplified the very best of all qualities that should be expressed on the gridiron, Leonard would be a frontrunner. Unfortunately, much like the MLB MVP isn't actually given to the Most Valuable Player, but perhaps to the flashiest, so will the Maxwell Award. All awards aside, the qualities that Leonard brings to the table are difficult to compare to since he is so different than others before him. While hybrid attempts to best describe what he is on the football field, it still falls short. Leonard has become equally adept at pass blocking as he has at leaping over defenders or catching the football in the flat and has become a tremendous weapon – even if used as just a decoy – for Rutgers football.
His backfield mate, Ray Rice emerged as one of the feel-good stories of Rutgers football in 2005. Originally committed to Syracuse, Rice re-opened his recruitment after the coaching change in up-state New York and would soon wind up on the Banks. The initial thought process emerged that penciled in Justice Hairston as the starter with, perhaps, Rice, serving as his back-up. Summer training camp would see Rice, however, emerge as the starter, and Hairston leave Rutgers. Rice put a stamp on his position during the second half of the Connecticut game, which saw him rush for a season high-217 yards. A Sporting News Fr All-American, Rice became the first true Fr Scarlet Knight to go over the 1,000 yard mark and the first Scarlet Knight in 11 years to eclipse the mark.
COMPETITION FOR THE TWO-DEEP
RS So. RB Dimitri Linton (Linton sustained a season-ending injury during summer camp '05 and did not see any game action last year; saw significant time on STs in '04 while playing in 9 of 11 games and rushed 11 times for 40 yards; Linton is expected to battle one of the newer Scarlet Knights for a spot behind the starter, Rice).
Fr RB Kordell Young (a commitment to Virginia, of the ACC, Young decided to opt out and instead stay in-state to attend Rutgers; After rushing for more than 4,500 yards and 63 TDs in HS, Young became a very pleasant post-holiday surprise for RU fans as LOI day drew closer; Young is expected to battle Linton for the #2 TB spot).
Jr. FB Jean Beljour (a highly touted recruit by way of Hackensack HS, Beljour spent most of his initial season as part of the ST unit; although he recorded his first catch during his true Fr year, Beljour was not redshirted during his second season and spent nearly all his time on STs; Beljour was expected to be the front-runner for the back-up FB spot to Leonard).
Fr. FB Jack Corcoran (an important south Jersey recruit, true Fr Corcoran, according to published reports, is giving Beljour all he can handle for the backup spot to Leonard; Corcoran, who has a bit of Leonard in him, scored a mind boggling 70TDs during his HS career, and is setting his sights for a spot on the 2-deep from the very get-go).
The majority of carries will go to Ray Rice and Brian Leonard. Snaps must also be distributed to the wideouts and tight ends. There are only so many balls to go around. A spot on the 2-deep, especially when the guys in front are all-time record holders, will not necessarily ensure playing time. All of Linton, Young, Beljour and Corcoran, however, have more than adequate skill to receive significant time – put simply enough, there is an abundance of talent at the position and there is no shortage of depth. Beljour could benefit from a redshirt year, thus giving him two more (2007 and 2008) and an opportunity to create a name for himself after the departure of Brian Leonard. Corcoran, though he has made waves early may not need to play. Burning a shirt for a mere whiff of playing time is not in the best interests. However, Frosh play when their talent warrants it (see Ray Rice, Courtney Greene, etc.). Having said that, the benefit of the extra year of eligibility certainly does not hurt.
Considering the wealth of talent at this position, very few questions remain:
Will Dimitri Linton's unfortunately ill-timed injury during camp of '05 forbid him from future playing time, with the arrival of promising youngster Kordell Young?
Can Rice improve upon the previous year, and will he be used as an outlet more effectively than he was last year (Rice only had 8 rec. in 2005) thereby giving the Knights an additional option?
Who will Brian Leonard leap over this year?
Note: Photos by Getty Images
Previous 2006 Preview Installments:
2006 Preview: QBs and RBs
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