‘O’ line remains consistent amid changes
One word the Rutgers football team will hear often this preseason will be “new.”
The Scarlet Knights have some new coaches with some new personalities, new players and a slew of new starters.
One new coach is offensive coordinator Ron Prince, who is clearly dissimilar to his predecessor Dave Brock.
But there does not appear to be any issues with his new personality.
Junior offensive lineman Taj Alexander said Prince was recently with the team dancing to some hip-hop music, giving the impression he is fitting in just fine.
On the field is a slightly different story.
“Being out there with him, you just have to get used to little things that are different,” Alexander said. “Some things are different than Coach Brock and we’re learning a new offense, new terminology and things like that. It’s taking a little bit to get used to.”
The offense will also have some new faces seeing more time than last season.
But one place there will likely be very little novelty is the offensive line.
R.J. Dill is the only member of last year’s unit who will not be returning.
To make filling his spot easier, Alexander and senior offensive lineman Andre Civil rotated in the starting lineup, so Rutgers still effectively has five starting offensive linemen.
That means the unit entered spring practice with no players without starting or playing experience.
“We just go out there with the mentality that we need to get better every day,” Alexander said. “We’re going to be the strength of our offense.”
Head coach Kyle Flood wants more.
A former offensive line coach, Flood holds his former battery to a high standard.
“I don’t think we’re where we want to be with that group just yet,” Flood said. “I think we’ve moved in the right direction each of the last two years. Would I have like to have moved further in the right direction each of the last two years? I would.”
One person clearly thankful for the stability along the offensive line is junior running back Savon Huggins.
Following former running back Jawan Jamison’s announcement to leave Rutgers early to enter the NFL Draft, Flood gave Huggins his vote of confidence as the team’s starter entering spring practice.
An experienced, established offensive line can only help the St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) product.
He also had time to build chemistry with them.
“Everything [on the offensive line] fell into place really well, with [senior] Antwan [Lowery], [junior] Kaleb [Johnson], [junior] Betim [Bujari], Taj and Civil,” Huggins said. “We’ve all been lifting together, running plays and watching film together in the offseason. We’ll just pick up right from where we left off.”
And with a whole group of offensive linemen that redshirted last season working in with the veterans, the unit may continue to be the strength even after the team’s move to the Big Ten.
Rutgers’ philosophy treats special teams with the same importance that offense and defense carry.
Special teams is also an area the Knights have enjoyed recent success, being among the best in the nation in blocked kicks and the best in the Big East in kick returns.
But the punt team has not been on par with the rest of that area in recent seasons.
Justin Doerner, last season’s punter, placed eighth in the conference with a 37.2 yards-per-punt average.
The Knights lost him to graduation, and the situation does not appear to have gotten any better.
“We certainly need to improve, there’s no secret to that,” Flood said of punting. “We have not been consistent through the first two days [of spring practice]. We’ve been probably below what my expectation would have been.”
Sophomore Anthony DiPaula and redshirt freshman Aidan Murray are the only two punters listed on the depth chart.
Flood said if nobody on the team produces at the level the coaches want, they will have to look elsewhere.
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