Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

The Rutgers football team's 15 spring practices showed head coach Greg Schiano exactly what was expected out of the quarterback position — a whole lot of question marks. Although each of the main quarterbacks in contention showed flashes of having what it takes to get the job done, inconsistency seemed to be the lurking theme at the signal caller position.

Of the three healthy quarterbacks, senior Dom Natale seemed to emerge as the leader in the clubhouse with both his knowledge of the playbook and precision on the field. Natale slowly improved throughout the 15 practices, going from an inability to move the chains or string together a successful drive to a 187-yard, one touchdown performance at the Scarlet-White game.

"I think we went out and established the line of scrimmage," Natale said on the first team offense's play in the spring game. "The offensive line did a good job opening holes for Joe and protecting me and you saw what can happen when we do that and execute. It's probably the best we've played all spring."

The thing to note about the offense's success in the spring game is that it was against a very simple defense. Schiano compared the defense's scheme to that of an all-star game in the spring game as there were no blitzes and coverage packages were simplified.

For Natale to find success this summer and beyond, the Hun School graduate has to improve against more complex defensive packages. He's shown that he can make plays with both his feet and his arm; it's just a matter of doing it accurately with a defense in his face.

As for the other two redshirt freshmen to participate in spring practice, it was a time for learning. Both D.C. Jefferson and Steve Shimko struggled to keep up with Natale in what was their first attempt at running the Rutgers offense after spending time on the practice squad. Neither Jefferson nor Shimko did much to impress in the spring, but Jefferson (6'6", 240 pounds) may continue to see time in summer camp because of his rocket arm, athleticism, and overall potential. But with the addition of two new quarterbacks this summer, Shimko may find himself on the practice squad.

Going into the summer, the quarterback will be all about what Natale can do against the added competition of senior Jabu Lovelace and freshman Tom Savage.

Lovelace, who did not fully participate in spring practice because he was recovering from surgery on his leg, has more experience than any other quarterback in the Rutgers offense. Lovelace spent parts of three years backing up now Seattle Seahawk Mike Teel. His best two games in a Rutgers uniform came in 2007 in 59-0 and 41-6 wins over Norfolk State and Army respectively.

Against Norfolk State, Lovelace ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 28 passing yards. He had another 81 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 28 passing yards later in the year against Army, when Teel had to ride the bench with a thumb injury.

The trick for Lovelace to learn the job is to focus on becoming a more complete quarterback. He has shown that he can be dynamic with his ability to run, but Lovelace has yet to impress with his arm.

Savage, on the other hand, is probably the most heralded QB recruit in Rutgers history. The Cardinal O'Hara High School star is already known for his huge arm and ability to run a pro-style offense, but the fact is that Savage has yet to play a down in a college football setting. The summer will be the lone decider on whether or not Schiano will redshirt Savage and despite attending all 15 spring practices and watching on the sidelines, he is well behind the other four quarterbacks.

The primary storyline for quarterbacks in the upcoming training camp will be whether Lovelace, Savage or Jefferson can make enough quick strides to surpass Natale as RU's starter Sept. 7 against Cincinnati in the renovated Rutgers Stadium.


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