Offensive line adapting to spread as Rutgers training camp reaches week two
Training camp has reached double-digit practices for the Rutgers football team as it completed sessions 10 and 11 Wednesday as it continues its preparation for the season opener against Washington on September 3.
The Scarlet Knights began two-a-day practice sessions after the first week consisted of one morning practice and an afternoon lift.
“Two-a-days is certainly a lot harder, but it’s all mental,” said sophomore offensive lineman Tariq Cole. “I love the game so I can’t really complain about it. I like it.”
The second week saw minor changes made to the depth chart, no position seeing a shift in the frontrunner after Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Some guys maybe been moved up the same line with somebody just to split some reps and create some competition, but nobody got completely flipped or moved down much,” said head coach Chris Ash. “It was more about rewarding some guys who probably deserved an opportunity for more reps.”
A change that didn’t make its way onto the depth chart was the addition of Davante McDuffie, a Bergan Catholic product brought in from Division III program West Virginia Weslyan College.
Changes didn’t occur on the offensive line, namely with Cole remaining atop the two-deep at left tackle.
The Long Beach, New York, native has made big strides since the arrival of Ash and his staff. After losing “70 pounds” according to his position coach A.J. Blazek, Cole was recently Knighted by the coaching staff.
“Tariq’s done well,” said Blazek, the offensive line coach under Ash. “He’s done some stuff, he’s very athletic. He’s lost almost 70 pounds in a year so he’s working with a whole new body. Some of the default stuff that was there, he’s just gotta get comfortable just moving.”
The shift in weight has resulted in changes on the field noticed in the first week of training camp, as the Knights went from just helmets to adding pads and now playing fully equipped in week two.
“You play a lot faster,” he said. “We ran a lot (over the summer) so me getting in shape for the summer time was probably the biggest thing I had to do.”
Advancing his speed would’ve benefit Cole in any situation, but even more so now with the no-huddle, up-tempo offense being installed in Piscataway. He had said in the spring that he felt the new offense was easier, a thought which he echoed following practice Tuesday.
The simplicity of the spread offense helps the Knights adjust to relearning an offensive gameplan again. Rutgers has had seven different offensive coordinators in the past eight years, changes that usually is looked down as a negative, but Blazek looks at it from a glass half full perspective.
“The positive part, they’ve had so many offensive coordinators, they’ve run so many offense, so the guys who’ve been in the systems, they understand the counts, the ID’s, the leverage,” he said. They just tell me, ‘coach, just how do you want us to do it?’ They’ve done it about every way. ... they’re actually excited about it. There’s not going to be a lot of new stuff every week.”
The transition was also made smoother by the veteran leadership Blazek inherited.
Of the five spots on the line, three are led by upperclassmen in the initial depth chart, with fifth-year senior J.J. Denman fighting for the right tackle spot behind sophomore Zack Heeman after recovering from injury.
The blend of youth and experience is key for Blazek.
“It’s huge. This has been my fourth stop, two of the places had older kids coming back and it helped up front in the transition,” he said. “Two of them had all young kids, and you play them, you play them early. We may have a couple guys who haven’t played much. Tariq’s never started at left tackle. You got guys who’ve started different positions. So you got both.”
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