2006 Preview: WRs and TEs

The receiving corps at Rutgers continued to be one of the team's most polished and dependable units in 2005.  Featuring an improved rushing attack, improved decision-making by Ryan Hart, and ample throwing time, RU's passing game racked up impressive season totals: 206 receptions, 2818 rec. yards, 20 TDs. However, as mentioned in a previous installment ...

The receiving corps at Rutgers continued to be one of the team's most polished and dependable units in 2005.  Featuring an improved rushing attack, improved decision-making by Ryan Hart, and ample throwing time, RU's passing game racked up impressive season totals: 206 receptions, 2818 rec. yards, 20 TDs.  However, as mentioned in a previous installment, the overall production did indeed dip: 303 receptions, 3416 rec. yards, 19 TDs were recorded by the group the previous year.  While Rutgers produced 598 fewer rec. yards in 2005 (as compared to 2004), the Scarlet Knights also accounted for 1,029 more yards on the ground.  That is to say that a decrease in passing yardage amount resulted from a more run-oriented ball-control offense, due to a significantly more dependable backfield.

As a result, several players saw their individual numbers of '04 drop by season's end in '05.  Most notably was that of now-departed Tres Moses, whose 1,000-yd season the prior year (1,056 yards, #11 nationally, #2 Big East) decreased to a still impressive 758 yards (#73 nationally, #4 Big East).  The total number of yards was misleading in more than one way, and Moses – whose individual accomplishments had shot through the roof in '04 – exemplifies this perfectly.  In 2004, Moses averaged 13.04ypc (Rutgers, as a team, averaged 11.27ypc), while this statistic increased to 16.84 last year.  Moreover, despite seeing 36% fewer throws his way in 2005 (as compared to 2004), Moses still hit pay-dirt five times, an equivalent number to his season total in 2004. 

Rutgers WRs and TEs were involved in far fewer plays in 2005.  However, in the grand scope of things, each play accomplished more than the previous year.  Reliable, steady playmakers were established: Tres Moses, Clark Harris, Brian Leonard, and to a lesser degree, Shawn Tucker, and Willie Foster.


PLAYERS LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP

Players lost off the 3WR, 2TE two-deep include:

*       WR Tres Moses (23 GS and 192 receptions for 2522 yards, 16 TD) 

Moses became Rutgers' all-time leading receiver (see career stats above) and the Scarlet Knights' most dependable – and clearly the go-to guy – wideout during the 2004 and 2005 season.  One of four Tr Fr to see considerable action in '01 (13 rec. 159 rec. yds), Moses quickly catapulted himself to one of the Big East's upper-tier receivers after sitting out and receiving a medical redshirt during '03.  The loss of Moses, the only demonstrable 3rd down WR on the team and the go-to guy for RU QBs, will be sorely missed.  RS So QB Mike Teel will need to find and instill a trust in an equally reliable every down WR among the core of players returning.

 

RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP

Players returning from the 3WR, 2TE two-deep include (with '05 totals below):

*       RS Sr WR Shawn Tucker (12 GP, 32 receptions for 484 yards, 1 TD)

*       RS Sr TE Clark Harris (12 GP, 38 receptions for 584 yards,  4 TD)

*       Sr TE Sam Johnson (12 GP, 9 receptions for 76 yards, 3 TD)

*       RS Jr WR Marcus Daniels (12 GP, 5 receptions for 101 yards, 1 TD)

*       Sr WR Willie Foster (12 GP, 8 receptions for 129 yards)


After breaking into the starting line-up during his initial (2002) year, Tucker cemented himself as one of RU's primary receivers in '03 – he finished third in receptions (50, just 3 shy of Leonard's team-leading 53) and first in receiving yards (726; #7 Big East) that year.  Shawn saw action in just a pair of games the following year and received a medical redshirt. Tucker returned in '05, started all 12 games, while recording 32 receptions for 484 yards, good enough for 15.13ypc and 40.3ypg (#9 Big East).  The senior returns for his swan song and hopes to replace the 3rd down reliability of now-departed Tres Moses.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2002, Clark Harris (pictured to the right) played in all 12 games the following year ('03) and became RU's top receiving tight end.  Harris elevated his game several notches during his RS So. campaign, en route to becoming the conference's most productive tight end – Harris would lead the Big East in catches (53, #2 on the team), yards (725, #2 on the team, #5 overall Big East), and touchdowns (5).  Harris, by his standards, had an off year in '05 (if 15.37ypc qualifies as that), but looks to regain the dominance he initially showed as a rising sophomore.  A Preseason Maxwell Award Watch List and Rotari Lombardi Award Watch List honoree going into '06, banter about Harris has him among the top three or four TEs in the nation and a likely first-day draft pick during the next NFL Draft.  If Harris is to take that next step, he must become the reliable big-target for Teel this year, exceeding his numbers of two seasons ago, and he must continue to improve upon his blocking, which has shown significant improvement since his arrival to Rutgers.

A highly regarded pass-catching and run-blocking TE by way of Bergen Catholic, Sam Johnson played 10 games as a true freshman in 2003 – one of 10 true freshmen to do so that year for the Scarlet Knights.  With the subsequent departure of Chris Loomis, Johnson became a fixture at the backup TE spot, but was a lock to see playing time as Rutgers often employs 2-TE sets in a variety of ways.  A punishing blocker, Johnson recorded 3 TDs in '05, accounting for 33% of his receptions.  With Harris as the primary receiving TE once again this year, Johnson will be looked upon as both a blocker or an outlet – his sure-handedness as a 3rd or 4th option receiver along with his outstanding blocking skills make Johnson an invaluable resource offensively.

Marcus Daniels had an outstanding grab in the season opener versus Illinois last year, showing great presence as he came back to what seemed to be an under-thrown ball by Ryan Hart.  The grab went for 55 yards and a score.  Daniels took a step backwards throughout '05 recording 4 more catches on the year.  Daniels will redshirt this year and retain an additional year of eligibility.

Willie Foster earned the fifth WR spot in 2003 while playing in 6 of 12 games.  Foster played in all 11 games in 2004 but emerged more prominently as a Special Teams threat while returning an 80-yard kickoff for a TD in a season-concluding loss to Uconn. Foster became an All-Big East performer (was named Special Teams Player) in '05, but also emerged as somewhat of a deep-threat due to his elusiveness away from the ball.  Foster will be relied upon heavily this year again, especially as a KR/PR and as a deep-ball threat.


NEW CANDIDATES FOR THE TWO-DEEP

Players trying to crack the two-deep include:

*       RS Fr WR Tiquan Underwood (11 GP,  4 receptions, 47 yards)

*       RS Fr WR Dennis Campbell (No Game experience)

*       Fr WR Tim Brown (No Game experience)

*       Fr WR Kenny Britt (No Game experience)

*       Jr WR James Townsend (sat our last year after transferring from Iowa where he totaled 6 catches for 98 yards in 2 years)


Tiquan Underwood's (pictured to the right) claim to fame (for now!) was his appearance during the nationally televised home contest versus Pittsburgh in '05, where he rushed 8 times for 28 net yards while taking snaps under C.  Underwood's presence in the game kept the Panthers defense at bay and added a new twist to the
Rutgers offensive repertoire.  Besides Pittsburgh and the following week against WVU, Underwood did not see significant game action otherwise but did contribute on Special teams.  Underwood, a long strider, is a smooth runner with big play ability that will be heavily involved in the Rutgers offense in '06. 

Rutgers brought in their most talent-laden WR class … ever.  Speed demon, Tim "The Ghost" Brown (Miami-Northwestern HS, FL) and Kenny Britt (Bayonne HS, NJ) both have game-breaking ability.  Brown is elusive and difficult to keep track of.  He is sure-handed and will make people miss often.  Britt is a big LB-er looking athlete that is equally capable of pancaking opposing DBs at the LOS as he is taking them deep on a post pattern.  Both newcomers add significant talent and depth to an already impressive unit.  Dennis Campbell (Plantation HS, FL) did not see any game action last year while redshirting his initial year.  Campbell's performance on the field is most reminiscent to the now-departed Moses, though with a touch more speed – after the veteran Shawn Tucker, Campbell and Underwood will round out the top 3 WR spots. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The top four WRs and top two TEs return – depth chart issues are of no importance in '06, and perhaps for a number of years to come.  This units' talent coupled with Leonard, Rice, Young and Linton in the backfield, has unequivocally placed the skill-positions – for '06 – among the very best to ever don a Rutgers uniform.  The mesh between this talented group of WRs and their new, every-down signal-caller is among the bigger questions that needs to be answered this year.  A few questions to ponder as '06 gets underway:

Moses, RU's all-time leading receiver is gone.  Who will replace him as the reliable, dependable go-to guy?  Moreover, which of the wideouts will complement the newly found #1 guy? 


It is a legitimate question - was Harris' reduced production last year an anomaly, or was it '04 instead?  Without a proven #1 WR, Harris should see an increased role, and most certainly an increase in pass-catching opportunities early on, until someone else can help fill in the void by Moses.  Can Harris be the #2 guy, behind, perhaps, a Shawn Tucker?

The wideouts (WRs and TEs) are versatile and athletic.  There is a nice blend between possession-type WRs (Tucker, Campbell) and (potential) game-breakers (Underwood, Brown, Britt).  How will each be used in the offense and how will the ball – only one football may be thrown on any one snap – be distributed among 10 candidates for the WR spot (keeping in mind to not count Brian Leonard or Raymell Rice in this total, though both will likely get their share of receptions)?


Coming Next:  SOR has concluded with its look at the offense.  We'll next continue with the defense …

Previous 2006 Preview Installments:

Offensive Line

QBs and RBs


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