So, where does that leave the backfield entering the 2008 season? For starters, there is no immediate breakout back of Rice's caliber, but several players have the ability to develop into star athletes for Rutgers. Also, the offense is undergoing a transition from a running game to a passing game, meaning there will be less need for a back to carry the ball 30-plus times.
It appears next year will be a season of running back by committee. Rice's understudy, Kordell Young, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the 2007 campaign and will return next year with three years remaining to play due to a medical redshirt. True freshman Mason Robinson got more touches toward the end of the season and shows potential of being a battering ram. Add to the mix freshman Jourdan Brooks and 2008 recruit Rashad White, and you have the making for an interesting battle to be Rutgers' No. 1 tailback next season.
Let's take a look at how each player stacks up entering the 2008 campaign.
Kordell Young (sophomore eligibility in 2008)
Young's value to special teams last season couldn't be understated. Young averaged 32 yards per kickoff return in 2007, including a 56-yard return to open the season against Buffalo Aug. 30. Rutgers averaged 10 fewer yards per return without Young in the lineup and could never get any consistency on special teams.
Young is not a battering ram like Rice, and he needs to beef up if he wants to become the kind of running back who is constantly getting the ball between the tackles. That being said, the West Deptford product is a shifty runner who can make runners miss in the open field. Young could fit a passing-style offense as a halfback, but we have not seen any ability to catch the ball on screens and wheel routes.
He is not going to be a feature back in a running offense, but look for Rutgers to use him as a change-of-pace back much the same way it did in the early going of 2007. However, he is still a question mark returning from his knee injury.
Mason Robinson (sophomore eligibility in 2008)
Robinson stepped up to the No. 2 spot at tailback in 2007 when Young was lost for the season. His running style resembles Rice's more than any other backup, as he is more of a between-the-tackles runner. However, Robinson looked confused at times in his freshman season and danced around more than he hit the hole. Hopefully, strength and conditioning coach Jay Butler has Robinson bulking up in the weight room to be a more effective and physical runner. He also proved to be a capable kick and punt return man late in 2007, bringing some stability to those areas.
Robinson's greatest asset is his ability to hit the hole quickly when he is focused. He showed the ability to learn late last season and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Robinson got the most work against Army on Nov. 9, carrying the ball 14 times for 82 yards.
However, like Young, Robinson is an unknown in the passing game and has given no indications that he can be effective catching the ball out of the backfield. Look for him to be the main back when Rutgers employs a power attack and in short yardage situations.
Jourdan Brooks (freshman eligibility in 2008)
Brooks is listed as a fullback and spent his first year at Rutgers with a redshirt learning the system. However, the Maryland native has blazing speed and should compete at the tailback position in 2008. He is big and bruising (6-feet-1, 255 pounds) and averaged 8.1 yards per carry his senior year at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Md.
Word is that Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is giving Brooks a shot to compete for the No. 1 running back position. At the least, he should challenge Jack Corcoran for the fullback position.
Rashad White (freshman eligibility in 2008)
Word is this three-star running back out of Teaneck High School is a stud with amazing speed. However, he is smallish and needs to put on some weight to be more effective at the collegiate level. He is not a power back, but he can turn on the jets in the open field.
White has the ability to make an immediate impact at Rutgers on special teams and in offensive sets. He is an exciting player who is a threat to take it to the house each time he touches the ball, and he has been compared to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. However, chances are White will redshirt in 2008.
Jabu Lovelace (junior eligibility in 2008)
True, Lovelace is a quarterback. But Rutgers has used him almost exclusively as a runner out of the shotgun formation the last two years, and he was second on the team behind Rice last season with 332 net yards and four rushing touchdowns. Teams were able to key on him once they figured out he wasn't going to throw a pass in 2007 (he was 7-for-23 for just 69 yards and zero touchdowns). Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is determined to get the athlete on the field, so don't be surprised if we see him in some different sets in 2008.