Spring preview: The Offensive Questions

Rutgers opens its 15-session spring practice schedule Tuesday. In the second of a three-part series, ScarletReport.com analyzes the questions facing the offense as it heads into this pivotal practice time. From the development of Steve Shimko to the offensive lines make-up to D.C. Jefferson's hold on the tight end positions and more, there is plenty at stake this spring.

Tom Savage is the quarterback, so the most sexy, pivotal storyline possible in a spring practice will be absent for Rutgers.

However, it doesn't mean there isn't plenty to watch, nor plenty going on, as the Scarlet Knights open their 15-session spring practice schedule Tuesday.

In the second of our three-part series, ScarleReport.com looks at the offensive issues Rutgers will try to get solved, or at least get a better feel for, culminating with the April 24 Scarlet-White spring game:

1. Is Shimko ready?
Yes, Savage is the starting quarterback, but the only other quarterback on the spring roster is red-shirt sophomore Steve Shimko, who is yet to come even close to running the offense.

He was the scout team quarterback last season, but will likely enter the season as the No. 2 guy. That means Shimko needs to get a lot of work, and get to know his receivers, in case the unthinkable happens in the fall and the Scarlet Knights have to go to their second quarterback.

If Shimko's development doesn't meet what Rutgers wants, receiver Mohamed Sanu could be the backup and run the ‘Wildcat' package if Savage is injured. Or, incoming freshman Chas Dodd could be the next in line.

2. Who's blocking? And from what positions?
The spring is always a time for mixing and matching on the offensive line, and that couldn't be more true for the Scarlet Knights, who lost three starters (Anthony Davis, Ryan Blaszczyk and Kevin Haslam) and will shift the two returning starters to other spots.

So, can Howard Barbieri move from guard and be a successful center? He is bulked up to 300 pounds. And can 6-foot-8 Art Forst excel in moving from right guard to right tackle? He has the size to play on the edge, but it won't be protecting the blind side.

Desmond Wynn (shoulder) won't take part in spring practice, which means Desmond Stapleton gets the first shot at left tackle. He was good enough to start in place of Davis at Army, but does he have the feet to protect Savage's blind side?

Caleb Ruch will be given a shot to win a guard spot, or will he remain a backup? There is also considerable interest in whether converted defensive tackle Antonio Lowery can play offensive guard. The coaching staff thinks so, and he will get that shot.

There is disappointment incoming freshman Betim Bujari is out with a non-related football injury, but Hofstra transfer Matt McBride and early enrollee Frank Quartucci will get a chance to make an early impact.

3. Who can catch the ball?
Not much is known beyond Mohamed Sanu, and plenty of guys will get 15 practices to make an impression before a talented group of freshmen come in.

Sanu had 51 catches as a freshman. The rest of the returning receivers had seven receptions, led by senior Julian Hayes (6 for 65 yards). Mark Harrison (5-83) should be the second receiver, providing he is healthy since a groin injury early and a concussion late impacted his inaugural season.

Keith Stroud (1-12) and Quron Pratt (1-4) were the only other receivers to catch passes, and are joined by Marucs Cooper, Tim Wright, Eddie Poole and Aaron Hayward in the battle.

And remember, it's not just securing the football. Blocking and proper route running are extremely important as the Scarlet Knights look to build depth at an area in much need of it.

4. Can D.C. block enough?
D.C. Jefferson's move from quarterback to tight end last training camp was a success from the standpoint he improved as the season wore on and he accepted the move. However, much more is expected than five catches for 108 yards now that he has experience.

The biggest issue for the gifted 6-foot-6, 245-pound Jefferson is his blocking. It was not good early on (not a surprise since he never played the position) but it improved by the end. His desire to get better at it was also important, but now he has to be the guy there.

Tony Trahan, Paul Carrezola and Malcolm Bush are all waiting to move to the forefront, and the only way Jefferson blocks them from doing so is to block.

5. Is there a fullback?
Rutgers didn't use fullback Jack Corcoran much last season, and he was a known commodity. Now, Edmond Laryea, Nick DePaola, Junior Solice and Robert Joseph will contend to make the position relevant again.

If one emerges in the spring as someone who could be used as more than a short-yardage battering ram for the running back, the Scarlet Knights may look to add plays for the upcoming season to utilize him.

6. Is walk-on Tyrone Putman really an option?
Last season coach Greg Schiano would say periodically he liked the way walk-on red-shirt junior running back Tyrone Putman practiced, and intimated Putman could be used if the Scarlet Knights' backfield became depleted.

Well, it is depleted with De'Antwan Williams (knee surgery) out and Jourdan Brooks having transferred. Schiano said he didn't want to wear out Joe Martinek, which means Putman will get plenty of action.

Can Putman be counted on for depth? Or will he get lost behind Martinek, Williams and freshmen Jawan Jamison and Casey Turner in the fall?

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