Blazek begins 3rd season running Rutgers' O-Line
The offensive line is coming along for the Rutgers football team during the offseason, as the Scarlet Knights held their fifth spring practice — and first scrimmage — of the season on Saturday in the Bubble on Busch campus.
With new offensive coordinator John McNulty bringing in a new system for the team, assistant head coach/offensive line coach AJ Blazek has had a “fun” time adjusting himself and his group of guys to it.
“It’s been fun, it’s been fresh for the guys,” Blazek said after the team scrimmage. “The way we’ve taught here is conceptually, it’s not memorized football. So John’s come in and we’ve changed some names, and you know John, here’s what he believes in. He’s watched our tape, knows what we do well, what we don’t do so well and he’s extenuated that.”
Blazek is entering his third season as the offensive line coach and is coming off a season where his squad showed significant improvements from the year before.
Last season, Rutgers finished with 19 rushing touchdowns, more than doubling its total of 8 in 2016. The offense also had three games with more than 200 rushing yards in 2017, one more than in the year prior.
Probably the biggest number that jumps off the stat sheet from last season is that the Knights only gave up 18 sacks on the year, which ranked second in the Big Ten and 33rd overall in the country.
That production out of the offensive line is exactly what you want to see carry over into the new season, and luckily for Rutgers, it is bringing back four key players from that line, as well as additional help within the team.
Fifth-year senior Tariq Cole and junior Kamaal Seymour return for the Knights from last season’s starting offensive line. Both Cole and Seymour started each game for Rutgers last season.
Junior Jonah Jackson and sophomore Michael Maietti also returned to the Banks this spring after playing a significant amount of snaps during last year’s improved season.
Jackson has played in 18 games with five starts so far in his career, although he missed five games last season due to injury. Maietti made his collegiate debut last season — making nine starts at center for the Knights.
In Cole, who has made appearances in 31 games — with 23 starts — in his career, Rutgers brings back its new leader on the line now that fifth-year senior and former captain Dorian Miller is graduating.
"I just want to focus on the offensive line right now,” Cole said. “We have to be the best unit in the Big Ten, and hopefully we will be. So, just teaching the young guys is going to be the biggest thing."
The veterans on the line are all doing their jobs as players, but also as mentors to some of the younger players on the team, including sophomore Micah Clark.
Clark saw playing time early as a true freshman last year, and has taken the strides to improving his play by adding weight and also looking up to his fellow lineman. Clark tapped fifth-year senior Zack Heeman as a key mentor to his improved play and training regimen.
“That's my best friend, I look up to him every single day,” Clark said about Heeman. “Every time I come out, I ask him 'Hey, did you see my set? How did I look on that block?' and he gives me his feedback. If he hasn't looked, we'll go over it on film. He's really like my big brother here.”
From the first practice before spring break to now, a couple of weeks later, Blazek has certainly noticed the team making strides in the right direction as spring quickly passes by.
Although it is a mundane task, Blazek is having the team focus on fundamentals up front and increasing reps as the practices get more and more intense.
“Plays are plays,” Blazek said. “My seventh grader, (he) can go out and run the same plays we do, but it’s the functionality of working and getting guys settled in — and we’re close.”