Youngsters set to man right side
Schiano tabs Bujari,?Johnson for playing time on o-line
Asked about the development of a fellow offensive lineman named Kaleb, sophomore center David Osei quickly began praising his experience, then stopped short.
“Oh, young Kaleb?” he asked.
Osei’s immediate response was about senior backup center Caleb Ruch, but the real question was about an 18-year-old true freshman.
Young Kaleb Johnson will make his collegiate debut tomorrow against Ohio. It could very well be as the starting right tackle, and it could very well line him up next to 19-year-old redshirt freshman right guard Betim Bujari.
“There’s going to be some mistakes and we know that,” said head coach Greg Schiano. “We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it gives us the positives — that the positives outweigh the mistakes we’re going to make. They’ve done some really good things in the bye week. Are they ready? I think so. We’ll see.”
Schiano refused to commit to starting the pair on the right side of his line, but Bujari and Johnson will play. They need to, according to Schiano.
Johnson was the last member of Rutgers’ recruiting class to commit — he chose the Scarlet Knights over Louisville and Miami on National Signing Day — but he was one of the first to arrive this summer in Piscataway.
And upon his June 1 arrival from Jacksonville, Fla., Johnson became an immediate candidate for early playing time. That did not materialize in the opener, when Schiano said Johnson should have played, or against North Carolina.
So with a bye week and an underwhelming ground game, Schiano used last week to tinker with his offensive line, with an emphasis on giving Johnson plenty of snaps.
“Now that he knows what to do, when he moves someone, he’s going to move him,” Osei said. “It’s nice to see him grow like that, and it’s happened fast. All those reps I think really helped him during the bye week.”
Bujari saw increased practice time entering the Week 2 matchup with UNC, when left guard Desmond Wynn was questionable and Bujari was in line to start.
Wynn recovered in time, but Bujari still played a few drives in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Like Johnson, Bujari was in line to play as a true freshman last year, but an injury sidelined him after the season opener. It might be for the best, as Bujari calls himself a smarter player more comfortable with the playbook now.
It took time, even though the Secaucus High School product graduated early and enrolled at Rutgers in January 2010 to participate in spring practices.
“I was just all over the field, but now I know what I have to do,” Bujari said. “I can react to defenses and things like that.”
But perhaps Bujari’s best attribute comes naturally.
Schiano calls it an edge. Bujari calls it his personality.
“He’s definitely a guy who is a nasty offensive lineman, a guy who will get after you and is strong enough to do it,” said junior defensive tackle Scott Vallone. “That really sets up well for him. Once he gets it down mentally, he’ll be a really good player.”
The same is true of both players.
When he’s not playing, Johnson shadows senior tackle Desmond Stapleton and sophomore left tackle Andre Civil. Someone who knows him off the field — “He’s a nice, little, innocent kid,” Osei said — would not recognize him on it.
“He’s a beast,” Bujari said.
When Schiano says the positives with Bujari and Johnson outweigh the negatives, their physicality and strength are at the heart of it. When he acknowledges they will make mistakes — and Bujari agrees they will — it is their inexperience.
Both are impossible to overlook.
“From an inexperience standpoint you look at it and you’re like, ‘OK, maybe they’re not the right people,’” said sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd. “But they’ve showed themselves in practice and are doing what they need to do. As long as they keep doing that, I feel confident with them.”