Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has a team that looks to be built to win in 2011. More than 60 of his 85 scholarship players this fall will be freshmen or sophomores in terms of eligibility, meaning that whatever he accomplishes this season should be just a precursor to what may follow.
That being said, you don't sell tickets by talking about the future, and even at present Schiano looks to have a team that looks capable of meeting or exceeding last season's 9-4 record and trip to the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Twelve starters return for Schiano, six on each side of the ball. Among them, a pair of sophomores expected to star for a long time in quarterback Tom Savage and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Another sophomore, tight end D.C. Jefferson, looks like a potential playmaker. Mark Harrison didn't start last season as a freshman, but enters camp as the leader to line up alongside Sanu at wideout this fall. And sophomore De'Antwan Williams would be in the mix at running back if he wasn't injured and out for the spring.
However, note what position isn't mentioned there: the offensive line. One of the tasks this spring is to replace three starters, including LT Anthony Davis, who left school a year early for the NFL. Junior Art Forst and versatile senior Howard Barieri are back, but, disappointingly, freshman Betim Bujari is out for the spring with a non-football injury. Redshirt freshman Antwan Lowery moves from defensive tackle to the offensive line, and could stick there with a strong camp.
The big loss for the Scarlet Knights' secondary is Devin McCourty, who will be a first-day pick in the NFL Draft because of his abilities on both defense and special teams. Still, there's a good group of players returning, led by safety Joe Lefeged and linebacker Antonio Lowery.
One burden of building a program from the depths, as Schiano has done here, is that it brings with it great expectations for the future. Another 9-4 season and minor bowl appearance won't thrill the fans, but the spring may bring cause for more optimistic thoughts for September and beyond.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Unlike last year, everyone knows who the starting quarterback will be in 2010. Tom Savage won the job last year as a true freshman, and should keep it as long as he's on campus.
What's less clear, and therefore a priority this spring, is who's going to block for him.
The Scarlet Knights lose three starters: Anthony Davis, Kevin Haslam and Ryan Blaszczyk. Injuries to Desmond Wynn and Betim Bujar, both of whom are out for the spring, leave the unit even thinner, but also offers Caleb Ruch, Desmond Stapleton, and Matt McBride the chance to show they deserve starting jobs.
Defensively, the big task is to fill holes in both the linebacking corps and the secondary. Three redshirt freshman corners, Darrell Givens, Logan Ryan and Abdul Smith, are all in the mix to win starting jobs.
BUILDING BLOCKS: With Tim Brown gone from the wide receiving corps, look for quarterback Tom Savage to find Mohamed Sanu even more often. After coming to campus as a safety, Sanu was quickly moved to offense and was, apart from Brown, the most explosive talent on that side of the ball. He's also dangerous while under center. Operating out of the Wildcat formation, he rushed for 346 yards and five touchdowns a year ago.
Savage himself should be better as a sophomore, though he'll be counting on the revamped offensive line to protect him better so he doesn't have a repeat of the injuries that plagued him a year ago.
On defense, the coaching staff is looking for big things from linebacker Manny Abreu. The junior came to campus with a lot of hype, but has played a mostly subordinate role until now. In the absence of the graduated Ryan D'Imperio and Damaso Munoz, Abreu will be counted on to raise his level of play in 2010.
Similarly, talented but inconsistent safety Joe Lefeged will be the leader of a revamped secondary that loses both Devin McCourty and Zaire Kitchen.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You probably would like to have one more (in the spring). One guy's arm gets sore, now I'm throwing. That isn't good. But it's where we are until next camp (in August)." -- Coach Greg Schiano to the Newark Star-Ledger on his lack of depth at quarterback. The only quarterbacks on the roster this spring are starter Tom Savage and backup Steve Shimko.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: It's a tribute to Greg Schiano's success at Rutgers that even after a 9-4 season and a bowl win, fans were still left wanting more. That was especially true given the team's slow start in 2009, which ended the BCS suspense early. To take a step forward in 2010, Schiano wlll need to hope Tom Savage stays healthy, a running back rotation emerges from a crowded field to play alongside Joe Martinek, a couple of wideouts prove capable of consistently making plays, and the offensive line and the defense can find replacements for the critical offseason losses.
DE Marcus Witherspoon -- Witherspoon was a linebacker at Michigan, but the plan this spring was to try him at defensive end. His chances of being a prominent member of the rotation won't be helped by the injuries that have slowed him for spring practice, however.
WR Brandon Coleman -- Coleman is not on campus yet, as he'll be a true freshman in the fall, but his name is the great unmentionable as the current crop of wideouts go through spring drills. With his 6-6 size, Coleman could easily win playing time early, especially if the current crop of hopefuls doesn't take this chance to impress.
OL Matt McBride -- The Hofstra transfer began the spring as the second-team right tackle. Given the attrition this offseason and the injuries being nursed by some of his competition, he should have a chance to play with the first team before this session is through.
--WR Mark Harrison started the spring well as he looked to replace Tim Brown as the starting wideout. The sophomore struggled through a concussion and a groin injury a year ago, but showed no signs of being physically limited in March.
--OG Desmond Wynn will miss the spring following offseason shoulder surgery. He's expected to contend for a starting job this fall.
--RB Kordell Young will miss spring practice because of his latest knee surgery, but is expected to be ready to give it one final try this fall.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010