Rutgers starting a tradition of good linemen

Something is happening slowly and without much fanfare on the Banks. Rutgers football -- which has gained the spotlight the last few years with outstanding running backs, solid defense and a burgeoning pass attack that is beginning to give opponents fits -- is becoming the place to develop talent on the offensive line.

The Scarlet Knights set another record for offensive yards and scoring in 2007, amassing 5,841 yards and scoring 426 points. Sure, All-American running back Ray Rice had something to do with it, but an offense that produces record numbers is driven by a deep, talented offensive front.

Perhaps the most telling stat is that Rutgers was second in the nation in sacks allowed this season with 11. That gave quarterback Mike Teel plenty of the time in the pocket and resulted in 3,147 passing yards, seven yards shy of Ryan Hart's passing record set in 2004.

Three graduating seniors (Mike Fladell, Pedro Sosa and Jeremy Zuttah) are entering April's National Football League draft, and RU's two offensive tackles -- Sosa and Zuttah -- were invited to the NFL combine Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis. Tom Marino, draft expert for, gives Zuttah high marks and had some pleasant things to say about Sosa.

"I thought Zuttah was the second best prospect out of Rutgers," said Marino, rating Rice as the best of the Rutgers draft class. "I thought Zuttah was the second best. Sosa is pretty good, too. They were fairly close in my mind."

Last year Cameron Stephenson was invited to the combine and was drafted in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Darnell Stapleton went into camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent but made the squad. Stephenson and ended up with the Green Bay Packers his rookie season. Neither player saw any on-field action, but they are two of three former Rutgers offensive linemen hanging around the NFL. Several other players in recent years have made NFL squads briefly.

The New York Giants' Super Bowl champion offensive line was anchored this year by a Rutgers graduate: Shaun O'Hara, one of the bright spots from the dark ages of Terry Shea as head coach of the Scarlet Knights. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cleveland Browns in 2000 and has been a starter for both the Browns and the Giants for at guard and center the last six seasons. O'Hara returned from Cleveland to New Jersey to play for the Giants starting in the 2004 season.

O'Hara isn't the only Rutgers offensive lineman with a Super Bowl ring. Harry Swayne is probably the most successful Rutgers graduate when it comes to the pros. The offensive tackle started in the Super Bowl for three different teams and won three Super Bowl rings. He lost Super Bowl XXIX in 1995 as a member of the San Diego Chargers against the San Francisco 49ers. But Swayne, who played for five different teams during his NFL career, won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in 1998 and 1999; then he got another ring with the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV during the 2000 season.

Anthony Davis was the biggest recruit Rutgers grabbed in the 2007 class, and he became a stalwart on the offensive line in his freshman year, earning him a spot on The Sporting News' first-team All-American freshman squad and setting the tone for the future of Rutgers' line play. If he continues on his arc, he's sure to follow in the footsteps of his fellow linemen to the NFL when he leaves at the end of his junior or senior season.

This year's class featured Art Frost, already a monster out of Manasquan High School at 6-foot-8, 305 pounds. He should make an immediate impact offensively at offensive tackle, giving Davis a bookend should Rutgers move him to tackle in 2008.

While the draft is still a couple of months away, it is a chance to show that Rutgers is developing into a power on the line of scrimmage and beginning to earn the title of "Lineman U."

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