Notes: Witherspoon's change, OL leadership

Marcus Witherspoon arrived at Rutgers as a heralded transfer from Michigan, but he is yet to make an impact on the field. With a change in position, is Witherspoon ready to make a move up the depht chart? Also, the offensive line looks different, but one of the holdovers from last season is making a big impact off the field that should provide dividends on it.

PISCATAWAY -- It's been too long, red-shirt sophomore Marcus Witherspoon acknowledged, so it doesn't matter what position he is playing. His concern is playing.

So, when Rutgers coach Greg Schiano asked the former high school all-American to move from linebacker to defensive end, there were no reservations.

"I just want to play,'' Witherspoon said. "It doesn't matter where. I'm just trusting coach's judgment to put me in the best possible position. I just wanna play. That's all.''

The first step toward that is practicing, and for the first time since his much-ballyhooed transfer from Michigan, Witherspoon is healthy enough to compete for playing time.

"I feel real good,'' said Witherspoon, who had 27 sacks as a high school senior. "I'm out there running again. It's been a while. I'm very happy.''

Shortly after the former Holy Spirit High (Absecon, N.J.) star arrived at Rutgers in September 2008, he underwent shoulder surgery.

The shoulder still wasn't healed by the following training camp, and once he was cleared to practice, it wasn't long before a hamstring strain slowed him again.

"It's always been frustrating, but you keep your head up and never give up,'' Witherspoon said. "That's what coach Schiano stresses. It's all about toughness. "I'm out there. The past couple of years I haven't been, and it just feels good to be out there and not sitting on the sidelines and wondering if I can do it.''

Now, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Witherspoon is trying to learn a new position, put on more weight and crack the two-deep.

Already, he noticed a big difference in playing on the line of scrimmage.

"Being physical,'' Witherspoon said is the biggest change. "It's a lot harder. You've got to really work on being good with your hips, and there's a lot of hand movement. It's something I'm not used, but I'm trying.

"It's very different. You just have to do it every day. Repetition makes it better.''

Leading the line
One of the reasons members of the offensive line believe the unit will perform better in 2010 than it did last season is continuity, and the leadership of center Howard Barbieri.

"I think Howie, in anything I've been a part of, is one of the stronger leaders I've ever seen,'' Scarlet Knights junior guard Art Forst said. "He's just a great leader. Everything he's done, he's done right. He never missed a class here. Never missed a lift, never been late to anything. Ever. In five years. Never been late to a single thing.

"It's not that he's never been caught. I asked him, ‘Have you ever been late for anything?' He said, ‘Nope, I've never been late for anything.' That's the kind of leader he is, and I think everyone on the team respects him, and how hard he works, so when you have a leader like that, you can go good places.''

Practice postponed
The inclement weather caused Rutgers to postpone practice and restructure its practice schedule for the next week.

All practices, except for the April 24 Scarlet-White spring game at Rutgers Stadium (3 p.m.), are closed to the public.

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