2009 Breakout Performers? Dom Natale

Every player on a football team has a story for how they got to where they are. Some of the stories are simple, some are more complex. So is the story for 5th year senior Dom Natale, quarterback for Rutgers, who has seen his path take him from the Delbarton School, to the Hun School, to Michigan State, to Rutgers, to surgery, to back-up, and to potential starter.

Since he's potentially a first year starter, he makes the list as a potential Breakout Performer for Rutgers 2009 season.

Dom Natale could be the oldest first year starting QB in Rutgers history and he will need to fight off challenges from two freshmen QBs with the most potential in Rutgers history to do so. Let's not forget that had Dom Natale come to Rutgers as a frosh, fans would have read a lot of headlines about his potential to unseat Ryan Hart; but since he went to Michigan State that never happened. The way he has carried himself the past few years, the spring, and into the summer is evident of the experience and leadership he brings to the table.

In addition, not only does he provide Rutgers with experience, he also provides Rutgers with a quarterback who can bridge the youth gap to allow the younger QBs to learn more. Rutgers has started 4 true or redshirt freshman quarterbacks in the past 12 years in Mike McMahon, Ryan Cubit, Ryan Hart, and Mike Teel. Rutgers hasn't groomed young QBs into seasoned 2-3 year starters due to the lack of depth previously at the position and has relied on them as freshmen, which RU could change barring Natale's success. Natale allows Rutgers to bridge the learning curve to allow Tom Savage to gain valuable practice experience and allow DC experience in blowout games.

First off, without a doubt, Rutgers has 5 talented QBs on their roster. All 5 of them are talented in their own specific ways and they will see, and have seen, playing time in their college careers at some point. Out of those 5, the most logical and realistic choice to start game 1 at QB for Rutgers is Dom Natale. Jabu Lovelace has been a nice compliment to the quarterbacking platoon in the past, but now that there is much more talent there, it may be a situation where his best use is to give more athletic experience to another part of the team. While DC Jefferson and Jabu have played well at times and shown flashes of athletic brilliance, they've also struggled in other key areas which Rutgers needs a quarterback to excel in to be effective in a tough first game. Game management, offense management, patience in the pocket, feel in the pocket, and timing are some of the things that they've struggled with.

On the other hand, Steve Shimko and Tom Savage have a little bit of learning to do in order to take the field so having them step in and go will be a little difficult. Shimko showed a lot of promise in the spring game and throws a nice ball, but his timing was a little off and he held the ball too long at times. Likewise, when doing an interview with Tom Savage, he expressed that while he's working hard toward playing this year, he also does not want to hurt the team and wants to have a great college career. He's also changed his throwing motion to be more productive and is settling in on his motion to get the ball out quicker. He's not opposed to redshirting and feels that if it's in his best interest, then he's satisfied. That leaves Natale as the most experienced and comfortable person to be named first game starter at quarterback for Rutgers.

While Dom may be named first game starter, he has the potential to show everyone that he should be named starter all season. He can, in an essence, start the Cincinnati game due to being the best choice at the time and play well so Coach Schiano keeps him playing. After all, wins are wins and it's a possibility because Natale is used to being successful in a transfer situation, appears to be a natural leader, and works very hard to keep himself playing. He transferred from Delbarton to Hun and performed exceptionally well there his junior year with a team didn't know well. He transferred from Michigan State to Rutgers (after only playing a few snaps and due to coaching staff changes) and had he not injured his elbow in 2007; he could have challenged Teel for the starting spot. He's in a familiar position now, with the arm feeling better, and knows what its like to be a leader on a new team because he has stepped in and done it before.

So, you may say "he isn't the biggest pro-style quarterback out there" and you would be right. But at 6' 2.5" and about 210 lbs, he's not your typical huge pro-style QB. On the other hand, he's accurate on his throws and has the ability to scramble if needed. His timing in the spring game was applauded by numerous evaluators and throws came out giving his receiver spacing from the DB. Moreover, he displayed great feel in the pocket and went through his reads quickly to ensure he was in position to make a play. He's always keeps his feet moving which allows him to never get into the "statuesque" stance that dooms pro-style QBs. What he lacks in size, he gains back in intelligence, positioning, and his poise. He's a pro-style quarterback, but he has some of the intangibles of a scrambling quarterback.

He could be called a Hybrid QB because he's not a pass first or run first quarterback. He's a hybrid of the 2 who uses his feel in the pocket to buy time to make a play, but always knows he can run for it using his 4.7 speed if needed. It's something Rutgers can really use with a receiving corps that has lost a lot of size and experience. It looks even better because by potentially stretching AND widening the field, the big plays that the misdirection running game can potentially have will show up and it'll free up more gaps for the running game. Though under center, it still forces the defense to honor the run, the pass, and the option, but doesn't rely on one of them too heavily the way Navy does the run and Texas Tech the pass. Natale has shown the athleticism and skill to make all types of plays the way Jefferson and Savage will in Rutgers future.

So now the eternal question everyone has is raised. What about the arm strength Dom has showed and is the arm fully healed? First off, in high school Dom Natale was not a 3000 passer per year (for 10 games). His annual totals in high school look much like those of Mike Teel (2100 yards junior year with over 500 coming in 1 game). He, like Teel, was tasked with being a game manager who could effectively distribute the ball and would have a big game here and there. Dom wasn't highly recruited because he'd throw a 65 yard bomb across his body a la Mike Vick. He was highly recruited because he is a winner that works hard, gets into position, gets the ball from point A to B, and is very accurate. What he lacks in one weakness, he makes up for in a different strength.

As for his arm strength, the zip on Dom's short to mid-range balls in the spring game was applauded by the staff and evaluators. They noted that he was releasing at times when the receiver can make a move to beat the defender. He did throw a 50 yard deep ball to Tim Brown which showed his arm strength on long throws is coming back. It normally takes a major league pitcher a year of rehab to really start thinking of making it back into a line-up after coming off of Tommy John surgery. Most start playing again in 16-18 months and they only throw the ball from the mound to the plate and not all around the field like a QB. When you look at that, and the extra rehab time needed for a QB, it puts Dom right on track to gaining full strength heading into the summer. Now he has showcased full strength on a lot of throws, but just needs to get that length he once had. He may never be able to throw a 70 yard bomb from the line of scrimmage, but if he could get to 60 yards, he'd be very effective. With a little more conditioning and throwing, he should be able to get his deep balls to that point by the start of summer camp.

It's very possible that Rutgers fans could expect Dom to throw for over 200 yards per game the upcoming season. He was 11 of 19 for 187 yards and 1 TD against one of the top passing defenses in the league during the spring game. If he threw a normal 28 attempts, he could have been 16 for 28 with 272 with 2 TDs which is well over 200 yards. Putting it into perspective, in 2006 Rutgers averaged less than 200 yards per game and had an outstanding year. With fewer mistakes and a few more yards, Dom can take advantage of efforts, similar to 2006, by the Rutgers' special teams, defense, and running game to be an effective game manager on the field. He can protect the ball to ensure every game Rutgers plays will be a winnable game that the offense does not lose. He can deliver a masterful performance that only a seasoned veteran can deliver. He has built a lot of rapport with his receivers already as scout team and back-up QB from the past. So why can't he put that experience with them to good use, take advantage of the opportunities caused by the team as a whole, and have a breakout season?

Rutgers is in great shape with some of the most talented quarterbacks in RU history on their roster. It's obvious that having some true and redshirt freshman QBs with potential, talent, and publicity on the roster will place some heat on Natale. Since he's in his last year of eligibility, and while getting experience for the underclassmen will be important, how well he does on the field will determine how long he is the starting QB. Natale has displayed the ability to play at a high level, understands the task ahead of him, and holds the keys to his destiny so why can't that destiny be to have a breakout 5th year as a starter?

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