It was a very different atmosphere at Rutgers this spring compared to the same time last year.
Back then, the quarterback competition was overshadowed by the looming arrival of true freshman Tom Savage. Dom Natale won the job in April, but there was little doubt that the new guy would make his presence felt, which is precisely what happened.
The quarterback position is solid, with the now-sophomore Savage a sure thing to start opening day. But the task on offense centers around keeping him healthy, and on that count there are still questions to answer after the spring game.
The biggest question surrounds the offensive line, which lost Anthony Davis to the NFL a year early as well as two other starters, and saw Howard Barbieri, Antwan Lowery and Desmond Wynn limited by injuries. The unit struggled in scrimmages, and bears watching.
There's also the question of figuring out the running game, as well as who will replace Tim Brown as the deep threat among the wideouts. Basically, except for Savage, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and offensive lineman Art Forst, all of the players healthy enough to go on offense for the Scarlet Knights were auditioning for greater roles rather than solidifying what was already theirs.
The defense looked a lot more solid, perhaps because even the newer starters are veterans who are either taking on expanded roles or shifting positions. Questions remain on the defensive line, but based on how the defense showed itself in the open scrimmages and the Spring Game it looks to be ahead of the offense heading into the summer months.NOTES, QUOTES
--Marcus Cooper moved from wide receiver to cornerback midway through the spring. He had never played the position until this April, though he did see some time at safety in high school.
--A school-record 20,114 fans attended the Rutgers Spring Game. It smashed the previous attendance record of 15,899, set a year ago.
WR Tim Wright -- Wright won the award as the spring's most improved offensive player. He has the size to be a weapon alongside Mohamed Sanu at wideout.
S Khaseem Greene -- With Zaire Kitchen gone, Greene had the opportunity to show he belonged in the starting lineup this fall. He did that and then some, earning the award given to the most improved defensive player over the spring and showing that the position is his job to lose.
OL Art Forst -- Forst was first among the linemen this spring, in part because he was one of the few players who remained healthy there. But the 6-8, 310-pound junior is poised to take over from Antony Davis as the leader in the trenches, and will need to play well for the Scarlet Knights to succeed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It hurts with the continuity. You play with a different guy next to you almost every day until you have the right fit because you have so many key guys injured. Obviously, it hurt a little bit. Three guys who came into the spring as starters aren't there? It has to have an effect." -- Rutgers offensive lineman Art Forst told the Newark Star-Ledger, on the injuries the offensive line suffered during the spring practices.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Who would have thought a few years ago that the Rutgers faithful would ever be choosy about which bowls the Scarlet Knights would participate in?
That's the flip side to the successful program that coach Greg Schiano has helped create. Rutgers looks poised for another postseason appearance this season, but the Scarlet Knights fans are hoping for something bigger this year, or at least a season that doesn't feature another slow start and an early exit from the BCS Bowl dreams. The offensive line will have to gel quickly and help keep Tom Savage healthy under center for that to happen.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Tom Savage was a folk hero a year ago at this time, the incoming freshman who would take the team to the next level as soon as he arrived on campus. He proved equal to the challenge of securing the starting job early -- though in truth, none of the other options had done much to distinguish themselves -- but was less successful in staying upright.
This year's offensive line will have to do better at keeping the defenders away from Savage, and the quarterback in turn will need to make quicker decisions and learn when to throw the ball away. It was hard to get a sense of the progress there this spring, given that the new-look line was torn apart further by a series of injuries that sidelined three starters and one of the top reserves.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Replacing Devin McCourty will be a huge challenge, and George Johnson and Ryan D'Imperio also leave big holes to fill. But the Scarlet Knights had some defensive depth a year ago that should be able to make the transition into bigger roles in 2010. Linebacker Ka'Lial Glaud was one of the stars of April, and worth watching once practice resumes.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker San San Te made all three of his field goal attempts in the spring game, a good sign for the senior. Teddy Dellaganna is back at punter, while the battle for the kick and punt return jobs will continue into the summer months.
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.
--Steve Beauharnais moved to middle linebacker, after spending 2009 on the strong side. He was one of the team's top performers in Spring Practice, and had 13 tackles and an interception in the Spring Game.
--DT Chuck Noonan missed the Spring Game after undergoing minor knee surgery in April. He wasn't expected to be affected by the injury by the time practice resumes.
--WR Mohamed Sanu missed the Spring Game with a minor head injury.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010