Projection of RU’s offensive starters next season
The Rutgers football team will not lose much talent on offense, but it faces questions at key positions.
For instance, uncertainty at quarterback is not the best way to enter the Big Ten. Rutgers also continues its carousel of new offensive coordinators when it hires one to take over for Ron Prince.
Here are The Daily Targum’s projected offensive starters for the 2014 season:
QUARTERBACK: Chris Laviano
Head coach Kyle Flood showed he was ready to make daring decisions ever since he made senior Chas Dodd the starting quarterback last year.
Then he fired three assistant coaches Dec. 8, a gutsy move Athletic Director Julie Hermann commended.
Laviano winning the job would likely require a combination of a great spring and training camp, senior Gary Nova struggling in that same timeframe and Flood being confident in another daring move.
Laviano did not take a snap in his true freshman season, but he is arguably the roster’s most talented quarterback.
If Nova’s confidence is shot from getting benched for the season’s final three games, Laviano is the most likely to win a positional battle against him.
RUNNING BACK: P.J. James
James made First-Team All-AAC while missing four games with a lower leg injury. The sophomore’s 881 rushing yards, nine touchdowns and 5.7 yards per carry provided an unreplaceable jolt on offense.
Justin Goodwin played a solid freshman season with 521 rushing yards off 4.7 yards per carry. But he is a work in progress, especially with blocking.
FULLBACK: Michael Burton
Burton is a consistent pillar of the offense with strong blocking skills, and is not so bad with taking handoffs and receptions.
The only reason Burton would not start is if the Scarlet Knights hire an offensive coordinator with a spread style that does not use fullbacks.
Otherwise, Burton began starting toward the end of his redshirt freshman year. It is unlikely he would not win the job for his senior year.
WIDE RECEIVER: Leonte Carroo, Ruhann Peele
Carroo is the only obvious starter at wideout, with 478 receiving yards and nine touchdowns off 28 catches last year as a sophomore in 10 games.
Peele, entering his sophomore year, played slot last year, so he might not be listed as a starter because of his use in three-wideout sets.
On the other hand, senior Quron Pratt was still listed as a starter when he moved to slot when Peele moved completely to cornerback.
The competition for the outside spot outside Carroo looks pretty open though. Sophomores Andre Patton, Carlton Agudosi, Janarion Grant and John Tsimis are viable possibilities.
TIGHT END: Tyler Kroft
Kroft returns as the established starter as Rutgers’ most consistent bailout receiver. The sophomore caught 43 passes for 573 yards — both team leads.
The bigger concern will be building depth behind Kroft, since senior Paul Carrezola will be gone.
Rutgers had three freshman tight ends this year in Nick Arcidiacono, Matt Flanagan and Taylor Marini.
Logan Lister, a three-star recruit according to Rivals, officially committed as an early enrollee and will participate in spring practice. George Behr, a two-star recruit according to Rivals, is a target for commitment.
None have game experience, which makes it an open competition to get on the field in sets with more than one tight end or when Kroft needs a substitute.
OFFENSIVE LINE: LG: Keith Lumpkin, LG: Kaleb Johnson, C: Betim Bujari, RG: Chris Muller, RT: Taj Alexander
Rutgers is set to return five players who started on last year’s offensive line. That became official when Johnson decided to return for his senior season instead of declaring for the NFL.
Lumpkin and Johnson provided stability on the left this past year, as both started every game.
The right side was not as consistent, and Flood switched the starters around throughout the year.
Muller, as a redshirt freshman, took senior Andre Civil’s job at right guard. Then Alexander, as a junior, took over for Civil as starting right tackle. Flood also threw senior Antwan Lowery in the mix often on the right.
But Muller was a four-star recruit who just showed some growing pains as a redshirt freshman. Alexander provides experience with 24-career games including 14 starts.
Bujari showed consistency at center in the past, but he struggled with several injuries this season and missed four games. He moved to right guard at year’s end.
With senior center Dallas Hendrickson’s graduation, Bujari is set to take his spot back.