Monday, April 28, 2014
Rutgers spring wrap
By Brian Bennett
The spring workouts are in the books, and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Three things we learned in the spring
Three questions for the fall
- Nova separates from the pack: The big story going into spring practice was Rutgers' three-way quarterback competition. Senior Gary Nova would start if the season began today. That shouldn't be a surprise, as Nova has 28 career starts while junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano have never taken a college snap. But Nova will have to show that he's improved from a rocky 2013 season.
- The Peoples champion: Running back Desmon Peoples hasn't played a huge role so far in his Scarlet Knights career, but he could be in line for a lot of carries this fall. He had a standout spring and gained 85 yards and scored two touchdowns in the spring game. He's only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, but his quickness could make him a nice complement to starting tailback Paul James, who was out this spring with an injury.
- D-line is fine: Darius Hamilton closed last season on a tear and did more damage during spring practice. The junior defensive tackle has become a leader on defense. Julian Pinnix-Odrick returned from a torn ACL, and he showed his ability this spring. Senior defensive end David Milewski won a team award for his mental toughness and hustle during spring ball, and redshirt freshman Kemoko Turay looks like a promising pass rusher. Rutgers' defensive line is small by Big Ten standards, but this should be an area of strength for the Scarlet Knights.
One way-too-early prediction
- Opening the Fridge: The vanilla play calling of the spring game didn't tell us much about how new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen's attack will look -- and Friedgen wasn't even at the game because of kidney stones. There's no question that the Scarlet Knights need more consistency and explosiveness on offense, and that side of the ball has been overhauled -- not just with Friedgen but new offensive line coach Mitch Browning. With the whole O-line back and an experienced quarterback, there's no real reason not to see major improvement -- especially in a ground game that averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season (95th in the FBS).
- More playmakers on offense: For Friedgen's offense to work, Nova will need to feed the ball to playmakers. Rutgers has some good ones in guys like James and receivers Leonte Carroo and Ruhann Peele. But with Peele and Carroo out for the spring game, the team's lack of depth at wideout was exposed by several drops by their fill-ins. Speedster Janarion Grant could become a major weapon and not just a special-teams ace if he can improve his hands. The Scarlet Knights need him and others to step forward.
- Secondary concerns: Defensive backs Anthony Cioffi, Nadir Barnwell and Delon Stephenson all were baptized by fire last year as true freshmen -- and they were burned often. Rutgers' pass defense ranked No. 120 in the FBS a year ago. The cornerback situation shouldn't be as desperate as it was at times last season, and the experience should make the trio much better. But there still is a lot to prove, and finding the right mix in the secondary will be a big key for new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
With an unforgiving inaugural Big Ten schedule that includes crossover games against Nebraska and Wisconsin along with East Division powers Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan -- plus nonconference road games at Washington State and Navy -- the Scarlet Knights will finish with a losing record and miss a bowl game for just the second time since 2005.