Jeremy Zuttah's Need for Speed

The play, which will be remembered as long as there is a YouTube, went like this: On November 29, 2007, against Louisville, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights had first-and-ten at the Cardinals' 23-yard line with about six minutes left in the first quarter.

At the snap, left tackle Jeremy Zuttah let his defender, DE Brandon Cox, through as quarterback Mike Teel rolled right. As Cox chased Teel, Zuttah was running left, positioned to catch the jump pass lateral Teel was throwing over the defender's head.

Zuttah caught the ball eight yards behind the line of scrimmage and rumbled forward, unobstructed, for 20 yards, before cornerback Rod Council closed in. As Council did so, Zuttah shocked everyone by attempting to hurtle his tackler and landing at the Louisville 10-yard-line. Running back Ray Rice scored the first of three touchdowns on the next play, and the Scarlet Knights lost the game, 41-38, on a late Louisville comeback, but all anyone could talk about was the leaping tackle who displayed such rare athleticism.

Zuttah built on this quality at the 2008 Scouting Combine. He was the only offensive lineman who ran a sub-five-second 40-yard dash (4.99), put up 35 bench presses (tied with Trevor Laws and Ahtyba Robin -- only Jake Long and Vernon Gholston did more overall at 37), placed fourth among linemen in the 20-yard shuttle (4.54) and cemented his status as one of the more intriguing players in this year's draft.

While Zuttah's athleticism has never been in doubt, he's seen by some scouts as a 'tweener because he relies so much on quickness and toughness as opposed to pure strength. It is unknown how his skills will transfer at the next level, or where on an NFL line he should play. He has seen time at guard and tackle, and he hasn't given up a sack since the 2005 season, his 6'3", 295-pound frame will have personnel execs wondering if he shouldn't bulk up a bit and play inside. There's some concern about his ability to explode out of his stance, as well.

At the Combine, Zuttah talked about his versatility and how it might project at the next level. "It all depends on the system and what team would take me. In certain systems, I could play tackle, guard or even center." He hasn't played center before, but this kind of athletic intelligence might make him a natural.

Wherever he lines up, Zuttah is ready for the challenge. "The only way to adjust (to the speed of the NFL game) is to just go out there and do it. It's going to take time. Just like from high school to college. It's just a whole different speed, and it's just going to take time.

"You're used to guys (you face) being either big and strong or little and fast. Out here, they're both. It's going to take time to get used to, but I'm confident I have all the physical attributes that I'll be able to adjust."

What we do know is what his 2007 season told us. A first-team All-Big East selection, Zuttah started all 13 games at left tackle after playing left guard the year before. Rutgers' offense set single-season records for first downs (269) and total offense (5,246), while recording the second-most points (374) and passing yards (2,964). Rice's 2,012 rushing yards, 5.2 yards-per-carry average and 24 touchdowns spoke to the physical nature of the offense, and its role in Rutgers' recent reclamation as a football power. That means a lot to Zuttah and his teammates.

"That's really the reason I went there...to try and do something special," he said. "When I was growing up, Rutgers, nobody wanted to go there. But we're on the map and we're one of the top programs in the country now."

Now that his impressive Combine performance has concluded, it's on to more training and his Pro Day on March 26. Zuttah will have a lot of time to think about how he'll fare in the pros, a step he's preparing for in every way possible. "I watch a lot of NFL film," he said, when asked who he might compare himself to in the big leagues. "I just take anything I see from anybody that I think I can use for my game — nobody in particular — but I take from a lot of different people."

Projected as a fifth- to sixth-round pick at this point, Zuttah will have to make some adjustments to succeed beyond his prior circumstances. He's shown enough to make things very interesting for any scout who cares to watch the film. Now, the question is: Where does all that raw talent go?


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.


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