Blazek praises his stable offensive line moving into fall
Offensive line coach — and now assistant head coach — AJ Blazek has had quite the offseason.
On top of being promoted to the latter position by head coach Chris Ash during the first week of spring practice, Blazek maintains the job of filling three starting positions on the front line and acclimating three early enrollees to Rutgers football in true freshmen Micah Clark, Sam Vretman and Jamaal Beaty.
But following Competition Saturday — where the offense and defense got their first competitive on-field action by way of a scrimmage — Blazek contended that that job was doing itself, courtesy of those stepping into their new roles seamlessly.
“Our ones are starting to gel a little bit,” Blazek said. “That first group is playing pretty good together. They’re the cleanest — no snaps, no false starts, things like that.”
Some, like junior center Jonah Jackson, have been groomed for the role since last season.
Jackson, who played in all 12 games last season but failed to see any action at center, had been practicing for the position last year in anticipation of the graduation of team captain and two-year starter Derrick Nelson.
Jackson’s preparation has enabled him to skip all of the minor details that come with assuming a new spot on the offensive line — rather, he’s been able to focus his energies on bringing this relatively young group together.
“Jonah’s doing a great job right now. Good leader. He’s our guy that might have the best relationship with the whole group of offense in the locker room. He brings a little leadership too,” Blazek said.
That young core, even not including the three freshmen in Clark, Vretman and Beaty, is filled out by sophomore right tackle Kamaal Seymour and junior right guard Zack Heeman, both of whom have in-game experience on the line.
Seymour, who assumed the reins at right tackle late in the season last year, amassed five starts in ten games and sees himself far and away the target at the position in Blazek’s offensive line.
For Heeman though, the right guard position remains much more contentious, as he finds himself in a battle with redshirt freshman Nick Krimin, who has impressed Blazek in the early going in what looks to be the toughest battle for a starting position on the offensive line.
But rounding out the scene is anything but inexperience, as junior left tackle Tariq Cole returns after an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten bid and fifth-year senior left guard Dorian Miller sees his third season in the starting spot.
And though Cole and Miller are the last of the bunch to worry about their starting positions come the fall, Blazek holds that they, especially Cole, have improved dramatically in the time away from the gridiron.
“Tariq, he’s made a big jump,” he said. “Having the full season and the offseason, he’s really detailed a lot of his craft.”
And of course, joining the five on the line are the three early enrollees, who, as Blazek says, could occupy the sixth and seventh spots that he has been looking for in the first couple of weeks of spring practice.
“Of the three freshmen, Sam and Micah — Jamaal has just gotten back, he was a little hung up with some injuries early — but those three guys, they’re playing fast,” Blazek said. “They’re not hesitant. The football IQ is there. It’s just a matter of learning the speed of the game right now for those guys.”
As the starting roles narrow out, those sixth and seventh positions will be integral to the success of Blazek’s offensive line. For the rest of spring camp and the months leading into the fall, much of his attention will be centered around the proper roles for the Krimins, Clarks and Vretmans of the team.
“We’re building a lot of depth right now,” Blazek said.