O-line still searching for final five
Greg Schiano called it the $64,000 question, but it brought him no closer to offering an answer.
“I hope so,” said Schiano, who admitted worry when asked if a clear group of five starters would emerge this season on the offensive line. “I hope so.”
The Rutgers football team’s Week 1 running back is no longer with the program. Its starting quarterback is now its backup, replaced by a freshman yet again.
And the offensive line is the most unstable of all.
The unit trotted out three different starting lineups through five games. The right tackle never played a down of college football through the first two weeks but played every snap since. The right guard was deposed, returned and now plays every other offensive series. The center sees more time at left tackle.
“I think when you get five guys who get to play together for a couple games in a row, you get to build the chemistry you always hear about with offensive lines,” said fifth-year senior Caleb Ruch, who took over as starting center against Pittsburgh. “Maybe if I’m playing next to a new guy every week, I have to make certain calls. If I’m playing next to the same guy every week, we’ll both know what’s going.”
Schiano said Rutgers would likely play more than five offensive linemen again this week.
It does not matter to Desmond Wynn. But the fifth-year senior, who started each of the past 15 games at left guard, does not know any better.
Wynn was part of seven different starting line combinations the past two years. They get used to it in practice, he says, when offensive line coach Kyle Flood constantly changes the line combinations, hoping something will stick.
But ask someone who experienced continuity and get a different answer.
“You develop trust with the people you’re playing with,” Ruch said. “Going out to the o-line dinner is always fun and you get to joke around with the guys, but when you’re playing next to a guy and you get put in an adverse situation, you get to really see what he’s made of.”
Ruch was part of the Scarlet Knights’ last consistent group of starters, considered the strength of the offense entering Opening Day 2009 — the last time the unit inspired confidence in Piscataway.
A slow start to the 2008 season forced shuffling along the line, and with six games remaining that season, the shuffling stopped.
The group of five started the final six games of 2008 — all Rutgers wins. Three of the linemen now play professionally. Ruch and senior Art Forst are still at Rutgers.
Even then, Schiano worried about the unit.
The head coach greeted questions about the line’s experience with concerns about its physicality, and the five returning starters did not even start the season opener.
“For the past two years I feel like I’ve been saying, ‘I want it to happen, but I can’t make it happen,’” Schiano said. “I can [make it happen], but competition has served us well here over the years, and we just need to keep doing it until we get five guys that will play as one, play as a unit.”