Rutgers - Tight End University?

Tight End. It's a position where Rutgers has traditionally excelled, and there has been at least one RU tight end on a two-deep National Football League roster for 17 consecutive years, beginning with James Jenkins and extending to L.J. Smith.

It all started with Paul Robeson. Much has been written about Robeson, RU's first star athlete who was a two-time All-American as an end in 1917 and 1918. He went on to play professional football during the 1920s to finance a law school education, and Robeson was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

Homer Hazel, who was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, was named to the All-America team at an end in 1923. He made it one more time as an All-American fullback the following year.

The first modern Rutgers tight end to make his mark nationally was Larry Christoff, who was an honorable mention AP All-American in 1972. Christoff signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Colts in 1973 and was traded to the New York Giants the following season before they released him prior to the 1974 campaign.

Alan Andrews garnered second team All-American honors following the 1984 season when he captained a 7-3 squad. Andrews was drafted in the seventh round (187th overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers and eventually landed in the USFL for one season with the New Jersey Generals.

The current unbroken trend of tight ends making the jump from Rutgers to the professional ranks started with a player who was undrafted out of college. James Jenkins played tight end from 1987-90 at Rutgers and signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins prior to the 1991 season. Jenkins, who earned a reputation in the NFL as a superb blocker, played 10 seasons with the Redskins as a tight end and halfback and was part of the Super Bowl XXVI champion squad his rookie season. He is one of five Rutgers alumni to win a Super Bowl ring as a player.

Keeping the tradition alive of NFL tight ends from Rutgers was Marco Battaglia, who was a consensus First-Team All-American in 1995 and was drafted in the second round (39th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1996. Battaglia spent 10 years in the NFL with five different teams, most of that with the Bengals.

Battaglia was followed to the NFL by L.J. Smith, arguably the most successful professional tight end to come out of Rutgers. Smith, drafted in the second round of the 2003 college draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, was the first Rutgers player to score a Super Bowl touchdown when he caught a pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb 5:05 into Super Bowl XXXIX to open scoring in the game.

The Eagles recently placed the franchise tag on Smith, meaning they have seven days to match any offer made to Smith, who was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this month. Any team that would sign Smith would be required to give up two first-round draft picks to the Eagles as compensation. Additionally, if Smith signs a contract with the Eagles, he would receive a one-year deal worth the average of the top five tight end salaries in the league.

Clark Harris followed the pipeline to the NFL when he was invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis last year was drafted in the seventh round by the Green Bay Packers in the 2007 draft. Harris spent the 2007 season on Green Bay's practice squad.

The expectation for Rutgers has been to churn out pro-quality tight ends. The offense reflected an emphasis on the tight end during the past decade. Battaglia, Smith and Harris combined for 436 receptions, 4,684 yards and 37 touchdowns during their time on the Banks, and each player led the team in receiving yards at least one season. Battaglia holds the Rutgers record for receptions in a game with 13 against Penn State in 1995.

But what about the current crop of tight ends? Does any rate as a legitimate NFL prospect? Let's take a look at each high profile player's upside and drawbacks.

Kevin Brock
The Hackensack High School graduate came with plenty of promise as a wide receiver but failed to emerge as a serious threat in the passing game until late in the 2007 season. He was on the depth chart behind Harris and Sam Johnson for the previous two seasons and was mainly utilized in short yardage situations as a blocking back prior to this season. Brock, listed at 6-5, 250 pounds, has the size to create damage in the middle of the field. He has quick feet and the ability to block, and he showed some good hands during the 2007 season.

Brock was fifth on the team in receptions in 2007 as he hauled in 23 catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns. His key play was a TD reception from Andrew DePaola on a fake field goal during a 30-27 RU victory against South Florida Oct. 18.

However, speed is an issue for Brock, as it became an issue for Harris during the NFL combine. 2008 is a critical year for the tight end -- who will be a fifth-year senior -- to show he can catch and break from tackles in the open field.

Shamar Graves
The former Woodbridge High School graduate probably has the most pro potential out of all the tight ends on the current Rutgers roster. Graves is lanky and can play split end, similar to the style Rutgers employed with Harris his last two seasons on the Banks. Speed is his greatest asset, as he is reported to run a 4.5 40-yard dash. He is also an intelligent player, but he has trouble reading defenses early in his career.

Graves opened the scoring during a 41-24 victory over Navy on Sept. 7 when he caught a 12-yard Mike Teel pass on a seam route. However, the 6-3, 230-pound Graves caught only two more passes on the season and at times seemed to be unable to find open space in the passing game.

Graves, who will be a redshirt sophomore in 2008, has time on his side to improve blocking and to put on some weight. He should challenge Brock for the top spot on the roster next year, and he can become a legitimate draft prospect if he improves routes, catching and blocking.

Fabian Ruiz
Another young player who will be a true sophomore during the 2008 campaign, Ruiz was one of the standouts of last year's incoming crop of freshmen. He only saw action in the Norfolk State game during the 2007 campaign, but Ruiz looks to challenge for the two-deep roster in 2008.

Ruiz has size (6-4, 235) and is strong with good blocking skills. He has yet to display it at Rutgers, but Ruiz is a good pass-catching tight end who can find open spots over the middle.

Like Graves, Ruiz has time to work on his shortcomings, mainly his footwork and his speed. He was reported to run a 4.7 40 out of high school, but he will need to cut that time if he wishes to become a legitimate pro prospect.

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