Rutgers Football Round-Table Discussion – Pre-season Edition
Added by Gregg Snyder on August 6, 2012.
Gary Nova will begin training camp in a position battle with Chas Dodd.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team will return to the field today as they prepare for the upcoming 2012 season. First year head coach Kyle Flood has a team loaded with talent at skill positions on offense and a highly regarded defense. With that said, there are still some large question marks on the team picked to finish third in the Big East.
We sat down with some of the most knowledgeable Rutgers writers to discuss the upcoming training camp. Joining us in this round-table is Todderick Hunt of StateOfRutgers.com, RUFanJerry of NJ.com, Mark Bator of Bleacher Report, and Christian Walter from The House That Schiano Built.
1. The Big East Media Poll selected Rutgers to finish third behind Louisville and South Florida. Fair placement?
Hunt: Somewhat fair. Louisville is stacked with blossoming talent; on paper at least. South Florida however, is always one of the, if not the most talented team in the Big East. Yet, they always find a way to squander their potential due to erratic quarterback play and leadership just as incompetent.
As stacked as Rutgers is on the defensive side of the football and at the skill positions, and as increasingly stable they are becoming along the offensive line, they are missing the two most important components to the Big East championship puzzle: a seasoned head coach and a quarterback.
The jury is still out as to whether Kyle Flood’s players’ coaching style will be the final ingredient to get Rutgers over the hump. And let’s face it: Rutgers has been one of the worst programs when it comes to developing the quarterback position over the past decade. I don’t see that changing this year, especially when rumor around town is that Blake Rankin is already being considered a viable quarterback option as a true freshman. Here we go again.
RUFanJerry: Louisville being selected first is more than fair. They performed well last season and have a solid defense. What separates them from Rutgers in a poll is that they have an established quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. I, for one, think this is somewhat of an advantage for Rutgers. Louisville is still a young team. If they let any of the accolades or pressure that comes with being a favorite affect them in anyway, it helps the Scarlet Knights.
I would, however, had placed Rutgers no worse than second. South Florida is always a sexy pick. They have talent and they have experience. However, there is something that is missing in that program. The late season dives now span two coaches. Remember, this was a team that finished 1-6 in the conference last year. With all the uncertainty in this league, I can not see how anyone can predict such a turnaround from a program that consistently disappoints.
Mark: Fair, given the fact that it is Flood’s first year and a new coaching staff. The big variable this year is Temple. If Rutgers can beat them and hope the Owls can surprise a few other teams, the Scarlet Knights should benefit.
Christian: I do not agree with the media selecting Rutgers third, but it’s definitely fair. Rutgers has the most talented roster in the conference, but there are legitimate question marks at the QB position and on the coaching staff. We don’t know how the team will gel with the new coaching staff and Kyle Flood is inexperienced as a head coach. His in-game decision making will be something to watch, especially early in the season with big road games against South Florida and Arkansas. If the team makes it through the first four games in good shape, they should be set up to succeed the rest of the season and do better than the media’s prediction.
2. What position battle are you most interested in entering camp and who do you think comes out on top?
Hunt: Well, the most obvious answer is the quarterback position battle between Chas Dodd, Gary Nova, and dare I say it, Blake Rankin. But I’ll go in a different direction with this one. Barring injury, there is little chance that anyone unseats Khaseem Greene nor Steve Beauharnais within the second phase of the defense. But I’m looking forward to an intense battle for that third linebacker slot between Kevin Snyder and Jamal Merrell.
Kevin Snyder has it all. In fact, if you were to go into a lab and concoct your ideal outside linebacker, there is a good chance Kevin Snyder would pop out of the cocoon. However, Merrell’s immense speed translated from playing the wide receiver position, and his ability to locate the football and make plays will make it tough for the Rutgers staff to outright hand the job to the budding sophomore superstar. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, it will be near impossible to keep Snyder – The Natural – off the field for a predominance of the repetitions.
RUFanJerry: This is an easy one. Quarterback. No other battle has as much hanging on it. For me, it is not so much who wins, as it is, if the winner takes control of the job. I would like to see either Chas Dodd or Gary Nova separate himself from the other by virtue of good play. The last thing you want to see if a battle where neither impresses and a player is chosen merely for experience or potential. This battle is surely going to have all of us pouring over the daily practice reports!
Mark: Of course the big position battle is for quarterback, but I believe Dodd will be the starter at the beginning of the season. The running back position will be fun to watch as well, between Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins.
Christian: The quarterback battle will be the most interesting position battle heading into camp. Rutgers has had quarterback controversies the last few seasons, so hopefully they will finally settle on one QB this month and stick with him for the entire year. I think Gary Nova will emerge from this battle victorious over Chas Dodd. Nova is a much better fir for the pro-style offense that is in place and he offers more upside for this season and the future. He really struggled last year with his decision making and at times his mechanics, but he should be better in those two areas with more experience.
WR, Mark Harrison is looking to put a disappointing 2011 season behind him.
3. How bad will the season ending injury to Dave Milewski hurt the Scarlet Knights?
Hunt: Dave Milewski is a terrific young student athlete of high character and leadership ability. Fortunately for Rutgers, they will likely not lose those aspects of his involvement due to said character. He will still play that role in the locker room and from the sidelines.
As a football player, Milewski has tremendous potential, both tangible and intangible. He has great size, plays downhill, has a nose for the pigskin, is highly intelligent, and most of all, loves the game of football. But to think that Rutgers was expecting an immediate contribution from him after two torn ACLs and a recent position change, would be a bit of a stretch.
Milewski is a fighter, and as of right now, intends to come back after yet a third ACL tear. Consequently, the question shouldn’t be how bad his knee injury will hurt the Scarlet Knights, but instead how his possible re-emergence and future productivity might inspire the Rutgers program in the future (i.e. Zaire Kitchen).
RUFanJerry: The defensive line will be the difference of perhaps being the best Rutgers defense ever or just another solid unit. We know the experience and skill at the linebacking and defensive back corps. Besides Scott Vallone, there is not a lot of starting experience. But the line is deep, and I think Rutgers can go 8 or 9 deep if Darius Hamilton contributes. This is why I think Milewski’s injury will not hurt. Milewski was going to be a hybrid DE/LB. Ka’Lial Glaud, Jawaun Wynn, and Marvin Booker all have shown promise at that position.
Mark: Unfortunately, but in all likelihood, inconsequential. Given the fact that it is his third injury in three years, it’s hard to assess what he would have contributed. But, now that Jamil Pollard has transferred from Penn State, the Milewski injury will not be devastating.
Christian: You have to feel really bad for Milewski, he’s had a ton of injuries, but this isn’t an injury that will drastically change the team’s outlook for the 2012 season. Losing Milewski hurts the Scarlet Knights’ depth and possibly special teams, but he was not listed on the two deep depth chart after spring practice ended. There are four of five defensive ends on the roster that will be involved in the line rotations, so they will still have good players there and still be able to remain fresh throughout the game and season.
4. Which upper classman do you want to see step up and have a big camp, maybe finally making an impact?
Hunt: Rutgers fans, surely, would love to see D.C. Jefferson finally materialize into the dominant force at tight end that we all expected to have seen for a couple years now. He has shown elite ability as a blocker and has flashed big play ability in the passing game, but the ladder has occurred few and far between. It’s now or never for the 6-7, 255-pound prototype. Jefferson has all the tools in the toolbox. Unfortunately, spurts of lost focus and lack of desired greatness are perceived to have plagued his Rutgers career.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Jefferson is one of the players who will benefit from Greg Schiano relocating to Tampa Bay. The suddenly less-tight Rutgers atmosphere just might enable Jefferson to cease thinking so much, and instead, “just play the damn game.”
If Jefferson can accomplish this feat, he will help Rutgers to a good amount of wins this upcoming season and himself to financial security in the NFL.
RUFanJerry: I root for Mason Robinson. The six-year senior has been through a lot at Rutgers. It is not so much that he needs to step up, as I would love to see him stay healthy. For various reasons he has not had the chance to make a large contribution while he has been here. He is such a good athlete, good kid, and hard worker. He has played RB, WR, and CB at Rutgers. Aside from his punt return against USF in 2010 – a game Rutgers still lost – he has not had a signature moment. I feel he was moved to CB a year too late and if not for the injury last season he may have had a shot at playing on Sundays with his skill set. Nevertheless, he has one more chance this season. He was listed on the two deep at corner, but Marcus Cooper or Gareef Glashen may still be ahead of him. He may share time with Miles Shuler as a return man as well. I would love to see him have a huge impact on a game, either on special teams or in dime coverage with a late pick to seal a big game. He deserves it!
Mark: Mark Harrison. Many are looking for Brandon Coleman to step up, or possibly Wright, to fill the void left by Sanu.
Christian: Senior wide receiver Mark Harrison needs to step up and become an impact player for this team. He ended the 2010 season with a bang, but he was a huge disappointment last season. He said in a recent interview with the Star-Ledger that his drop at a critical moment in the second game of the season at North Carolina weighed on him mentally and he wasn’t able to overcome it the rest of the season. Harrison is a big guy with big play ability, and he will need to step it up to help fill the void left by Mohamed Sanu at the position.
Darius Hamilton is a true freshman that could play his way into action this season.
5. Which true freshman do you think makes the biggest impact?
Hunt: As terrific as I believe this highly-ranked, star-studded freshman class will eventually pan out, I don’t see any immediate difference-makers in this group. Darius Hamilton, I’m sure, will be the most popular choice, but he has a long way to go in the strength department and I believe he could struggle within the collegiate trenches early on. Ryan Brodie and Derrick Nelson are apparently showing early signs of being special athletes, but strength is also a concern with these two. Desmon Peoples could be utilized as a change of pace back but he would likely be better off redshirting and preparing his body to finally get through a full season of football.
Early on, Leonte Carroo has displayed his ability to take the top off the defense but he is competing at a position deeper than the Grand Canyon. Blake Rankin will be a stud before it’s all said and done but I can’t see the staff risking the perceived image of starting all over with another freshman quarterback.
We could go on and on and on.
Point being: There is a ton to work with here, but if I had to pick a couple guys who could possibly find themselves in position to help Rutgers this year, I would have to go with Kyle Federico and Steve Longa.
Federico will have plenty of opportunities to affect the outcome of games this upcoming season, being that he will likely be “the man” at a one-man position (kicker). And Longa is a good overall athlete, who comes in with a body that needs little work and a work ethic that could likely earn him a look at one of Rutgers’ least deep position groups (linebacker).
RUFanJerry: The easy answer here would be Darius Hamilton. But unless he puts in a tremendous dominating freshman year he won’t have the most impact. More importantly with the depth Rutgers has at the defensive line, he won’t need to be dominant, just contribute. This is why Kyle Federico, the freshman kicker out of Florida will have the most impact. In a conference that features so much parity, there is no doubt that many games will come down to a made or missed field goal. It was great for Federico that he was able to enroll early and participate in spring practice. He can now just concentrate on his craft in the summer and not have to worry about acclimating himself to the college life and game.
Mark: It had better be Kyle Federico or a winning season is out of the question.
Christian: Defensive lineman Darius Hamilton is the obvious choice here. He was one of the most sought after recruits in the country and he is physically mature enough to play right away. Lineman often have the biggest adjustment of any position to make in the jump from high school ball to college ball, since they are just able to overpower opponents in high school, but I don’t think that will be a problem for Hamilton. He has great technique and is a rare talent, not just your average line recruit. Hamilton may play defensive tackle, but I don’t think he’s big enough for the position yet and will play end this season. He’ll pick up some sacks and make some plays against the run as well, likely as a reserve.
6. Season Prediction
Hunt: Rutgers is in for another 9-win season, which is not saying much when considering how uninspiring this year’s schedule appears. They will win eight games on talent alone, likely lose two games they are supposed to win, win a game they are supposed to lose while losing the game they are supposed to lose. Are you still with me?
Nine wins might just be enough to win the conference, but I don’t believe RU’s wins will be comprised of the right nine wins. Ten wins should certainly do the trick, and is highly attainable for Rutgers, but I feel that possible tenth win would likely come as the result of a Bowl Game win which wouldn’t positively affect RU’s Big East championship hopes by that point.
Luckily, this is all according to my crystal ball which has been wrong in the past. So there is still hope for the scarlet contingent. But I just don’t see a conference champ coming to fruition this year due to the lack of quarterback efficiency, remaining question marks along the offensive line and inexperienced leadership.
RUFanJerry: The September 13th game at USF game will be the key. If Rutgers is 3-1 after the first four games, I believe everything will fall in place. If they do not win that game then you get into needing help from others at some point on the season. Not the way you want to go. I see this team doing no worse than the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando (Big East 2nd place) with a BCS game as the goal.
Mark: Second place in the Big East
Christian: Rutgers will finish the regular season 10-2, win the Big East and go to the Orange Bowl. They have a very manageable home schedule, but a tough road schedule that will trip them up a couple times