WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING
by Mike Fasano
Vince Lombardi once said, "winning isn't everything, it is the only thing."
Sorry, Vince, you're wrong.
When Rutgers fans head to Rutgers Stadium on the 30th of this month they'll be looking for more than just a win. They'll be looking for the future.
I asked Rutgers fans who they'd be looking at in game one. I wanted to know which players - veterans or not - they'd have their eyes on. I asked them to tell me what they hoped to take away from game one - in addition to a win.
Here are their answers, my thoughts and other observations on the Knights and the Big East.
Mike Teel - Up until the Louisville game Mike Teel was the guy who handed the ball off to Ray Rice - nothing more. But something happened in the Louisville game. In the third quarter Rutgers needed a two point conversion to put the Knights within three points of the Cardinals. Teel went back to pass and Louisville didn't just rush, they attacked. Their national championship hopes were on the line and the two point conversion had to be stopped. Louisville quickly compressed the pocket on all sides. You could actually see hands reaching within inches of Mike as he waited for Dennis Campbell to get open. With nowhere to move in the collapsing pocket Teel stood motionless - eyes focused on the endzone. Campbell got open and Teel instantly flicked a perfect touch pass to him for the score.
After that, it was a different ball game.
After that, it was a different Mike Teel.
The Mike Teel who ended the season was not the same Mike Teel who began it. Mike always had the talent. Now he has the confidence, the poise and the experience.
He also has the receivers.
Can Mike take it to the next level? That's what many Rutgers fans want to know.
Kenny Britt - This name kept popping up - and why not. Britt has tight end size, great hands, scat back speed and he isn't afraid of going over the middle. No surprise there, since opposing d-backs could get flattened trying to flatten Britt.
Last year as a freshman Kenny had 29 catches, 2 touchdowns and averaged an impressive 15 yards a catch.
But, in truth, no one cares. Because the intriguing thing about Kenny Britt isn't what he has done but what he can become.
Last year Kenny Britt was a good receiver. But with physical attributes like he has, good is not good enough.
Kenny has to do more.
Kenny is a big-target for Mike Teel, but he has to become a wide-open big-target for Mike Teel. Britt not only has to catch every pass thrown at him, he has to rip down those passes a bit too high, a bit behind him and a bit under thrown. Kenny not only has to beat opposing corners, he has rip the ball out of the hands of those great corners who will stay with him.
Britt has to do all that. In fact, he has to do more.
There's a reason for all this.
For a guy like Kenny Britt, good is not good enough.
Rutgers fans will have their eyes on Kenny Britt - not because he's good - but because Kenny Britt could become great.
Kordell Young - Here's the difference between Ray Rice and Kordell Young.
Ray Rice can hurt you on every play.
Kordell Young can burn you on any play.
Not since Terrell Willis has Rutgers seen a running back as exciting as Kordell Young.
Young is a speedster, a cutter and a slasher. His runs are like fireworks - dazzling displays that are over before you can savor them.
Last year, Greg Schiano vowed to get Young more involved in the offense.
He owes it to the team, to the fans and to the institution of football to keep that promise.
Linebacking Corps - Devraun Thompson and Quintero Frierson have graduated. Ouch! That duo were two of the best instinctive linebackers who ever played for the Knights. Both had a natural sense for the flow of a play. Both had the athleticism to get to the point of attack and both had the tackling ability to stop plays cold.
Both are gone.
What happens now?
Personally, I think that the linebacking corps will be fine. I saw them in the spring game. They moved crisply to the ball, swarmed at the point of attack and tackled sure handedly. For instance, Kordell Young - who usually treats linebackers like slalom poles - couldn't get by them. Ray Rice had difficulty getting through them. What more can you ask for?
Of course, regular season is a different story. Thus, the fans that I talked to were interested in the young talent that will be turbocharged into this evolving unit. There is a lot of talent to look at. A former player told me that Ryan D'Imperio could be the best ever at Rutgers. Manny Abreu was wanted by everyone in the nation, now every Rutgers fans want to see him on the field. Antonio Lowery came in this January under the radar, but but he could supply needed juice early. Al-Ghaffaar Lane is yet another youngster will talent on top of talent. But the guy I am interested in is Jim Dumont. His dad was a unknown walk-on in the 1980's who ended up as an All American.
Whoever you are looking it, one thing is for certain. There is a lot of young talent at this position and you can bet you will see some of that talent on the field early this year.
George Johnson - Earlier this year I tuned into a television program which was half over. The guy on the screen said that he was amazed "that there was anything in the world that could be that big and strong yet still be that quick."
I thought he was talking about George Johnson.
No, it turns out that he was talking about a lion that had attacked him.
So what. Same principle.
Johnson's 19 tackles as a freshman won't knock you out. His potential will.
Johnson is possessed of awesome strength and quickness, locked into a huge frame.
Will he reach his potential?
If he does, opposing teams will demand that he be checked for claws.
Anthony Davis - How can anyone not be interested in a guy who was arguably the best offensive line prospect in the nation?
Offensive linemen usually don't start games as true freshmen.
This guy might.
Other names - Tiquan Underwood - He has put on weight and muscle. It shows. In the spring game he finally displayed the ability to go up and get the ball in traffic. He is now a complete player and has a chance to be something really special. Tim Brown - He was starting to bloom late in the season. Though he'll miss several game, he should be available for late season crunch time. His speed could be the deciding factor more than one game this season. Jack Corcoran - Mercifully, no one will expect him to live up to Brian Leonard's legacy. However, Corcoran has superb speed for a fullback and just might make a mark in his own right. Jourdan Brooks - A freakish combination of size and speed makes him another fullback that can't help but intrigue fans. Mason Robinson - More speed for an already speed soaked offense.
These predictions are printed in a revolutionary new techo-medium.
If the predictions are wrong - they disappear.
If correct, they increase in font size.
Okay, here goes.
I think that this year's Rutgers team will be as good as - if not better than - last year's team.
Here are my reasons.
For most of last year RU had a one dimensional offense. It went like this.
Hand the ball off to Ray Rice on first down. On second down hand the ball off the Ray Rice. On third down hand the ball off to Ray Rice to pick up the first down.
Then repeat that sequence until touchdown occurs.
That, basically, was the Rutgers offense through a good part of the season.
This year with Teel's maturity, they'll have a double barreled attack. Opponents won't be able to key on Rice, since the passing game will be potent. They won't be able to pin their ears back and come after Teel since Rice or Young could kill you on a draw play. With that type of diversity the offense will be like a over-clocked processor. It'll move. In fact, it could be spectacular.
On defense, I think that the linebacking corps will be better than anyone expects. They looked great at the spring game and - if they have problems - the cavalry is coming with reinforcements. There's enough experience to handle the soft early schedule until all the young, new linebacking talent gets their feet under them. They'll be ready just at the time RU needs them.
The defensive backfield - though not deep - could be spectacular and Foster and Johnson will keep opponents honest on the line.
I think that the defense looks pretty good. They could end up being very good.
Yes, there are problems. There's the loss of team leader Brian Leonard, the loss of Harris, Meekins, Thompson, Frierson and others.
I don't underestimate it. However, remember all the defensive linemen Rutgers lost from the Insight Bowl team. The Knights defense not only came back, they came back stronger than ever.
There's finally a pipeline in Piscataway.
The Big East
In the Big East I think you'll start seeing improvement at Pittsburgh. The talent is there and the coaching is better than people credit. On the other hand, at Syracuse, expect some serious grumbling to start. I just don't think that there is anywhere near enough talent in that program for SU to succeed. The Orange will have an early test against an improving Washington Husky team. The Huskies are expecting this to be a coming out game for Tyrone Willingham's version of the UW football. It probably will be and you can expect gnarling and gnashing of teeth in upper New York State. Speaking of Huskies, Connecticut had better improve their recruiting or they can expect to be Rutgers' permanent runner-up in the Tri State area. West Virginia will be great but I think that one situation that is a real unknown is Louisville. Some people I have talked to believe that Steve Kragthorpe is in over his head with the Cardinals. Kragthorpe was one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country when he signed with the Cardinals. But some think that the Louisville program is just too hot for him to handle. I hope not. The league needs a strong Louisville team and nothing would make me happier than to see Kragthorpe outdo the self-centered Bobby Petrino. Yes, I know it is a business and it is about money, but Petrino seemed to take that too far. I don't remember another coach so consistently embarrassing a school like Petrino embarrassed Louisville. Petrino threw his hat into the ring so many times, it caused a world wide run-up in hat futures!
Good riddance is all I can say.
But, on the other hand, speaking of loyalty, how do you like that Jim Leavitt. Yes, it was great that Greg Schiano turned down the Hurricanes but honestly Leavitt's rejection of Miami was a stunner. Until the Big East came along no one even knew of the existence of South Florida. And unlike Rutgers, USF's backyard is patrolled by three football giants who all have first dibs on all local talent. USF didn't even have facilities until the past year or so. Leavitt either has great integrity or great self-confidence, maybe he has both. Either way, Bulls' fans should be shining that guy's shoes. They probably will as USF will have yet another powerful team this season.
Finally, there's Cincinnati. That one is a big "who knows?" Cincinnati may end up being a swing game for Rutgers and here's a word for the wise.
Keep tabs on the Bearcats as the season unfolds.
That's it for the preseason. Hope to see you all at Rutgers Stadium this fall.
Winning Isn't Everything
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