Review of the Offense

A new season is dawning, which means renewed hopes, expectations and unanswered questions. SOR will attempt to fill in the gaps of where Rutgers football stands heading into the 2008 campaign. Today's installment: offense.

RU is coming off a record-setting offensive performance in 2007. The Scarlet Knights reached new marks for points in a season (429) and total offense (5,841) and were able to open the offense in explosive fashion at times. RU was the first team in NCAA football history to have a 3,000-yard passer, a 2,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.

This year should feature a fundamental shift in offensive approach from the rushing-first mindset to one that relies more on the aerial attack. RU’s receiving corps is as talented and seasoned as any unit in school history, led by true junior Kenny Britt and fifth-year senior Tiquan Underwood. Last season Britt set a new school record for yardage in a season when he hauled in 62 catches for 1,232 yards. Underwood averaged 84.6 yards per game and finished with 1,100 yards, making the pair the first in school history to each rack up 1,000 yards in a season.

The receivers have fourth-year starter Mike Teel, a fifth-year senior, delivering the ball. Last year was Teel’s best season to date, and he set the school mark for yards passing in a season (3,147) despite being limited by an injury on his throwing hand the second half of the season.

Rutgers returns seven of its 15 starters on the offensive side of the ball.

Key returning players:

QB Mike Teel. As Teel goes, so go the Scarlet Knights in 2008. The offensive co-captain has improved every season and has plenty of weapons in the passing game this year. He is sure to face more pressure in the pass rush this year, as RU does not have Ray Rice keeping defenses honest.

WR Kenny Britt. His size and speed make him a deep threat every play, and he proved that with five touchdown catches of at least 40 yards in 2007. The true junior was named to several preseason all-Big East teams and is on the Belitnikoff Award watch list for the the best receiver in college football. You could see Britt start to figure out the college game last year, and this could be a breakout season for the Bayonne native.

WR Tiquan Underwood. An offensive co-captain, the true senior has always been a sparkplug for the Scarlet Knights and joins Britt on the Belitnikoff watch list. He is an emotional leader of this team and has the speed and hands to improve on his 1,100-yard, seven-TD performance from last season.

OL Ryan Blaszcyk. The only returning senior on the offensive line, “Blaze” is back at center, a critical position for getting plays going and leading offensive blocking schemes. Blaszcyk is on the Rimington Award watch list for the best center in the country.

OL Anthony Davis. The Outland Trophy candidate for interior linemen made the expected move to left tackle, the most important position in the passing game for protecting the quarterback’s backside. According to Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, Davis has become leaner, which translates to quicker feet.

Key additions:

OL Art Forst. The kid is big (6-feet-8, 310 pounds) and comes highly touted out of Manasquan High School. There’s a chance he could crack the starting lineup at tackle this year.

TE Fabian Ruiz. The big man out of Miami Sunset Senior High School spent the 2007 learning the system as a redshirt. He should compete for the starting tight end position.

QB D.C. Jefferson. Another prized recruit, Jefferson spurned LSU to come to the Banks. He’ll probably redshirt this year, but early reports are that he has all the tools to be a stellar quarterback in the coming years.

Key losses:

RB Ray Rice. The junior running back bolted for the National Football League at the end of his junior season in 2007 and was selected in the second round of the draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Rice holds several career records at Rutgers, and he was the first running back in school history to rush for at least 2,000 yards when he racked up 2,012 yards last season. That leaves RU with a big hole to fill at the tailback position.

OL Jeremy Zuttah, Pedro Sosa and Mike Fladell. The trio of starters helped Rutgers put together one of the best offensive lines in the country the last couple of years. RU allowed just 10 sacks last season, second in the nation behind Tennessee. The offensive line also paved the way for Rice and company as RU averaged more than 400 yards per game of total offense in 2007.

Here’s a quick look at each offensive area:

Teel is the man under center, and he is on the watch lists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Davey O’Brien Award, both of which recognize the best quarterback in college football.

The backup role is still up for grabs. Redshirt junior Jabu Lovelace has the most experience at QB, though he has been used mostly as a running back on his snaps in the past two years. He is competing for the backup slot with Chris Paul-Etienne, who has accuracy and arm strength to spare.

Redshirt junior Andrew DePaola, who is moving to wideout this year, ended his quarterback career with an astounding 556.0 QB passer rating. His only collegiate pass was a 15-yard touchdown throw to Brock on a fake field goal during RU’s 30-27 victory against South Florida last Oct. 18.

The big question mark is who is going to step up to shore up the tight end position. Fifth-year senior Kevin Brock and true sophomore Shamar Graves are the likely starters at that position, but redshirt freshman Fabian Ruiz has shown plenty of promise.

Britt and Underwood form a powerful 1-2 punch that should give defenses fits this season. Additionally, true junior Tim Brown – the fastest player on the squad – returns as a viable third option. Redshirt junior Dennis Campbell, who sometimes has trouble holding on to the football, is back as another option.

Running backs:
Mason Robinson or Kordell Young? It’s been a while since we wondered who would get the bulk of the carrying load on the Banks. But Brian Leonard and Rice are both in the pro ranks now, so RU has to figure out who is the feature back in an offense that has operated out of the I formation pretty much since Greg Schiano arrived in Piscataway.

Young, Rice’s backup entering last season, injured his ACL in the Norfolk State game on Sept. 15 and never returned. More of a scatback than a feature back, the redshirt sophomore will battle true sophomore Robinson, as well as ballyhooed redshirt freshman Joe Martinek – New Jersey’s all-time leading high school running back – and redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks.

At fullback, true junior Jack Corcoran reigns as the incumbent, but he should receive significant competition from Andres Morales, a redshirt sophomore who started his Rutgers career on the defensive side of the ball.

Offensive line:
RU is big and athletic at tackle this year, but the offensive line is a bit green. Blaszcyk joins Davis as the other returning starting lineman. Fifth-year senior Mike Gilmartin is expected to start at the right tackle slot at least to begin the season.

Redshirt junior Kevin Haslam, who started five games last season at guard and tackle, is the go-to guy at left guard, and redshirt freshman Caleb Ruch appears to be the early favorite to start at right guard. Redshirt sophomore Mo Lange is another large lineman (6-7, 310) who should see significant time along with redshirt freshman Richard Muldrow and redshirt sophomore Howard Barbieri. Forst is the x-factor, as we’ll have to wait to see his progress.

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