2007 Preview: WRs and TEs

This article is the third of a six-part series previewing the 2007 Rutgers football team. In our initial looks, we traversed about the OL and the QB/RB group, looked at the key players from all units coming back and those likely to make a run during the upcoming season. In this third part, we'll continue our preview series with a look at the WRs and TEs.

After becoming one of the team's most dependable units in 2005, production by the WR/TE group dipped in 2006.  While the TEs were led by a veteran group the WRs were youthful and lacked game experience.  However, by the end of the 2006 season, the youthful exuberance of RU's receivers had turned into a playmaking group exhibiting as much upside as any unit in the BE conference.

The receiving corps at Rutgers grew up as a unit during the 2006 season.  After entrenching themselves as the most dependable unit in 2005, the group took a step back last year.  At least a couple of reasons contributed to this.  First, the RU offensive backfield had never been filled with as much talent, including pre-season Heisman Candidate Brian Leonard, So. RB and BE conference rushing leader Ray Rice, and Rice's protege Kordell Young.  With a powerful rushing game and imposing offensive line (OL) that learned to dominate the trenches, the Rutgers Football offense learned to dictate the flow of the game.  As RS So. QB Mike Teel was undergoing his learning process under center (C) RU's staff decided to ease his transition.  As a result, the focus switched back to the running game in 2006.  However, as the 2006 season went on, the RU offense was decreasingly less one-dimensional, and the vertical game became increasingly potent.  Despite witnessing the passing yardage drop by 674 yards from 2005 to 2006, productivity did not change as significantly.  The average per reception dipped only slightly, decreasing from 13.7ypr to 13.0ypr.  The primary difference between 2005 and 2006 was a shift from a pass-oriented team (357 passing attempts in '05) to one focused on running the ball more (298 passing attempts in '06) - the over 1 minute increase in time of possession is direct evidence of this.  What Rutgers did in 2006 (as opposed to 2005) was pick their passing opportunities with greater diligence and rely on the pass game as more of a big-play threat rather than as an every-down part of the offense. 

With the graduation of ultra-dependable Tres Moses the previous year, Shawn Tucker, Marcus Daniels, and Willie Foster remained as the lone veteran WRs returning.  The TEs also returned talent and veteran leadership in All Big-East Clark Harris and bulldozer Sam Johnson

PLAYERS LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP

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

*       WR Shawn Tucker (4 GP: 6 receptions for 88 yards in '06) -- Tucker broke his ankle in the 4th game of the season effectively ending the career of the south Florida native.  Tucker had averaged 15.1ypr in 2005, to go along with 32 receptions (4th on the team) for 484 (also 4th on the team) yards.  A dependable receiver with good all-around skills, Tucker's injuries never truly permitted him to have the breakout season all had hoped he would attain.

*       TE Clark Harris (13 GP, 34 receptions for 493 yards, 2 TD) -- Harris' number dipped in '06, but the All Big East performer was a threat to catch the ball every time he stepped on the field.  Not stated enough, although Harris showed immediate promise as a pass-catching TE, it was his ability to block that showed significant improvement during his Rutgers Football career.  Harris, who recorded 2,015 receiving yards during his RU tenure, was a 2007 NFL Draft Selection by the Green Bay Packers (the first TE to be selected by Green Bay since '01) with the 33rd pick of the 7th round.

*       TE Sam Johnson (13 GP, 1 reception for 23 yards) -- Despite his 31 career TDs as a TE at Bergen Catholic HS Johnson's role at RU was more of the Charles Oakley lunch-pail sort than the more glamorous receiving TE spot.  While RU and Johnson did pick their spots (4 career TDs) Sam's presence was more significantly felt in the trenches, plowing a hole for somebody.  Johnson was arguably RU's top blocker and RU made a living off the skillful execution of his abilities. 

*       WR Willie Foster (13 GP, 1 reception for 7 yards) -- Foster made his mark on the 2005 version of Rutgers Football, garnering Big East Special teams Player of The Year accolades for his efforts as both a kick return specialist and punt return specialist.  His primary role as part of the WR core diminished in 2006 as younger players began to make their mark. 

RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP

Players returning from the 3WR, 2TE two-deep include (with '06 totals below):

*      RS Sr WR Marcus Daniels (sat out 2006 season due to injury) -- Daniels impending redshirt was known by the time the 2006 was underway.  In 2007 he is the elder statesmen of an extremely talented group.

*      Tr So WR Kenny Britt (9 GP, 6 GS, 29 receptions for 440 yards,  2 TD) -- Britt is the team's leading returning receiver in both number of receptions and receiving yards.  An amazing athlete, Britt started 6 of the last 7 games of the 2006 season and has entrenched himself as the #1 WR on a talented unit that boasts impressive speed, hands, and athleticism. 

*      Tr So WR Tim Brown (11 GP, 1 GS, 8 receptions for 202 yards, 3 TD) -- Tim "The Ghost" Brown is Rutgers' most prolific deep threat having led the team with a 25.2ypr average, number one on the team in 2006.  Brown has started in 1 game, in the Texas Bowl, and averaged just a shade under 100ypg during his final 2 games of '06.  Brown's ability to leave the line of scrimmage (LOS) unblocked at the snap of the ball gives him a tremendous initial first step.  Though only 5-foot-7, Brown has excellent hands, runs crisp routes and is a true game-breaker in every sense of the word, all qualities that RU fans have became first hand witnesses to during his FR year.  Brown sustained a wrist injury in RU's final scrimmage of pre-season camp and will be out 4-6 weeks, thus testing RU depth at the position.

*      RS So WR Dennis Campbell (12 GP, 11 receptions for 121 yards) -- Campbell made the switch to WR (from CB) after redshirting his initial year on the Banks.  Campbell contributed immediately recording 3 catches for 38 yards during RU's season opening victory at UNC.  Campbell also came down with a critical 2-point conversion catch in Rutgers' upset of then-#3 Louisville.  Campbell was the #4 WR in RU's 3-WR set coming into camp, but will have an immediate chance to entrench himself at the #3 spot due to Brown's wrist injury.

*       TR Jr WR Tiquan Underwood (12 GP, 9 GS, 23 receptions for 290 yards, 4 TD) -- Underwood earned the starter's role after Tucker's injury in the fourth week of the season and took full advantage, until he went down in the regular-season finale at WVU.  Underwood, a strider by nature, has the speed and athleticism to run away from the opposition as he adepthly showed at Navy by recording 2 TD scores.  At 6-foot-2 Underwood brings size and speed to a unit already filled to the brim with both, creating match-up defensive problems all over the field.

NEW CANDIDATES FOR THE TWO-DEEP

Players trying to crack the two-deep or are already part of the two-deep but are new to the position/team include:

*       RS Sr TE Chris Rudanovic (sat out 2006 season per NCAA regulations) -- After playing sparingly in 2003, Rudanovic played in all 11 games in 2004 and 2005 for Indiana before transferring to Rutgers and sitting out the 2006 season per NCAA guidelines.  The departure of Clark Harris and Sam Johnson to graduation has left a void at the TE spot, one that Rudanovic has grabbed strong hold of.  RU has typically run 2-TE formations and Rudanovic has the early season grasp of one of those spots.

*       RS Fr TE Shamar Graves (2 GP) -- Graves was a highly sought-after athlete out of Woodbridge HS with numerous scholarship offers to choose from.  After selecting Rutgers, Graves began his RU career at the WR spot but moved to TE during the spring of '07, where he currently resides.  A tremendous athlete, Graves could present RU with an interesting advantage coming out of the RU backfield as a pass-catching TE.  As was the case for former Mackey Award candidate Clark Harris, Graves will have to work hard to improve on the other aspect of his game, one that RU tries to utilize often - blocking. 

*       RS Jr TE Kevin Brock (11 GP) -- mainly used as a short-yardage blocker in '06, Brock is a unique blend of size and athleticism, that, should he be able to put it all together has the physical ability to become a devastating player on the collegiate level.   

*       RS SR WR James Townsend (13 GP, 3 GS, 7 receptions for 117 yards, 1 TD) -- Townsend is an extremely fast athlete that transferred to Rutgers in 2005 from Iowa.  Townsend played in all 13 games with RU (1 of only 2 WRs to do so) and contributed significantly on the Special Teams (STs) unit as well, blocking a kick against Ohio and recovering a Howard University fumbled punt return.

*       Tr FR TE Fabian Ruiz -- Ruiz has yet to play a collegiate down at Rutgers but comes in as a highly regarded youngster that impressed at the Rutgers Camp in Florida two summers ago.  Ruiz was not thought to be the most talented of the TE group on hand, but after its conclusion, it was he who came down with a Rutgers offer.  Though still extremely young, Ruiz boasts good hands and impressive speed for his size, and depending on exactly what transpires at the TE spot for RU, could see time beyond STs as early as his initial year on the Banks.


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