Kickoff Primer: Tom Luicci Q&A

Tom Luicci , who covers Rutgers football for the Newark Star Ledger and also contributes to a Rutgers blog on, took the time to do a Q&A with readers. With his typical brand of wit mixed with knowledge, he answered question about the Scarlet Knights' defense, recruiting against Pittsburgh, the offensive line and plenty more. readers submitted questions for Newark Star Ledger Rutgers beat writer Tom Luicci to answer, and he gave his time to our audience to give his thoughts on the Scarlet Knights, the upcoming season and the status of the program.
So, please enjoy this special feature exclusive to readers.

1. Would you say that this defense has the makings of '06 again? could it be better?
I like the potential of this defense, for a lot of reasons: An experienced front four; athletic, active linebackers and a deep, talented secondary. We know how much Greg Schiano loves using nickel and dime packages. This is the first time he's had six or seven really talented defensive backs for those situations -- guys that need to play. That depth means Rutgers can be as aggressive as Schiano wants to be.
I'm already on record as saying this could -- the operative word being "could" -- be Schiano's best defense. I'll stand by that (at least until North Carolina shreds it).

2. What do you make of the Pitt recruiting in NJ?
Different school, same old Jersey problem. In the past it was Syracuse or Penn State doing what Pitt is doing now. (Notre Dame is a different animal, so I don't count them). There's enough talent in the state to go around if Rutgers gets its share of the top ones.
It probably annoys people more now because Pitt is in the same conference. But it used to annoy people when Syracuse and Penn State lived off Jersey talent.

3. Do you think there are any positions that lack depth because of inadequate or inappropriate recruiting over the last few years?
The defensive line is a little thin -- but Antwan Lowery was moved from there to offense. The depth at the ends and tackles isn't what it has been or probably should be there. The offensive line really needs a stud in the Desmond Stapleton-Jeremy Zuttah-Anthony Davis mold.
There just aren't any dominant O-linemen on this unit, which may explain why Rutgers was 111th nationally in sacks allowed last year. Syracuse is still totaling the sacks of Tom Savage.

4. Do you think Savage and/or Mohamed Sanu have a realistic chance for Heisman Trophy consideration during their careers?
Realistically, no. Try to name the last winner from a non-traditional power. Probably Ty Detmer of BYU in 1990 or Andre Ware from Houston in 1989. It just doesn't happen. Ray Rice would have been a legitimate contender had he returned for his senior year.
But that still would have required him chasing another 2,000-yard season. Savage and Sanu won't have the dazzling numbers to be candidates beyond making watch lists.

5. Given the lack of depth at QB, and given the progress of Paul Carrezola, is there any scenario in which DC Jefferson finds himself behind center this year?
Well, if Savage gets hurt and Dodd gets hurt and Sanu gets hurt and can't operate the Wildcat and Deering gets hurt and can't operate the Wildcat, then D.C. could be under center. Barring that, no.

6. What will come first?
a. Rutgers playing in a BCS game
b. Rutgers playing a Big Ten conference game?

They will happen at the same time -- Rutgers will make a BCS game as a member of the Big Ten.

7. You sound very impressed with Jordan Thomas. Please tell us what you like about him and who you would say his running style is most like...
I love the explosion, the initial burst at the line. Rutgers hasn't had a back like that for a while. Can he run between the tackles? No one knows yet, but they have Joe Martinek to do that. It's hard to compare him because he's a good-sized back (6-1, 205) who was a New York state sprint champion.
Rutgers is hoping he's a better, tougher version of Terrell Willis. The Thomas types usually wind up at wide receiver at Rutgers, which is where he started when camp began. His speed is what catches your attention immediately.

8. What is Rutgers' biggest question mark entering the season?
It's the offensive line, no doubt. Until this unit proves itself against a quality opponent, it will remain that way. There are no major issues on defense. I like the move of Steve Beauharnais in the middle. He's faster and more active than Ryan D'Imperio was. That will make a difference. Wide receiver and running back at least offer hope because of young talent.
But the offensive line is such a patchwork unit, you have to wonder how good it will be. With he 11th overall pick in the NFL Draft last year, the group wasn't very good.

9. What would you consider a successful season, and why?
A winning season in the Big East -- which is 4-3 -- is what I would consider a success. Rutgers has only had three of those in its history, so that's a big deal, especially since the four key league games (Pitt, USF, Cincinnati and West Virginia) are on the road. I'm looking at 4-1 at worst in the non-conference. So 4-3 in the league would be an accomplishment.

10. How far has Rutgers come since Greg Schiano became the coach?
Well, there was a time when Terry Shea's credit card interest rate was higher than his winning percentage, so you have to remember where the program came from. Schiano has done what most people thought was impossible. He has made Rutgers respectable, turned the school into a national brand and the program has become a bowl regular. That's the level he got them to.
The problem is, in year 10, it's the level they're still at. Can he get them to the next level? That's the big question. When I was in school they were still playing Bucknell and UMass and Rutgers Stadium seated 23,000 and had a scoreboard that was donated by the class of 1948 -- and built that year. Now Rutgers Stadium is a major facility, with all the necessary bells and whistles. To borrow a cliche, it's night and Shea.

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