Dienhart: Rutgers spring football wrap

Rutgers is ready to turn the page on a 2013 season that began with the promise of a 4-1 start but melted into a 6-7 finish. The program seemingly has been energized by its maiden Big Ten voyage. Great possibilities loom—as do challenges. Is this roster up to the challenge? Kyle Flood has some talent to work with.

Here are some thoughts from the Scarlet Knights’ spring practices, which concluded Saturday.

[ MORE: Read all of our Big Ten spring football coverage ]

1. The spring featured a quarterback battle. And, it looks like Gary Nova has the edge—a big edge, in fact–in the competition with Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano. Kyle Flood didn’t anoint Nova the starter, but it will be a surprise if he isn’t under center when the season kicks off. How much did Laviano—thought to be Nova’s top threat—struggle in the spring game? He went 0-for-9 with a pick. The battle for No. 2 will be key, as Flood has shown a willingness to switch quarterbacks.

2. This team lacks depth across the board. Yes, the Scarlet Knights look OK on the offensive line and at running back. But the other areas lack quality numbers. That’s not ideal, as Rutgers preps to battle big, physical Big Ten teams. Remedying this issue is a function of time. So, that doesn’t bode well for 2014.

3. Michael Burton looks like he could be a third-down fullback in the mold of former Rutgers’ great Brian Leonard. Burton made three grabs for 34 yards on Saturday. This offense is looking for playmakers in all shapes and sizes. Burton could fill a valuable niche.

4. It was hard not to be impressed with Desmon Peoples. The running back ran 18 times for 85 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game. He consistently was one of the Scarlet Knights’ top players all spring. The 5-8, 175-pound Peoples is a good receiver out of the backfield and is nifty in space. Sorta reminds me of Illinois’ Josh Ferguson. Rutgers has some nice depth at this spot.

The number: 3, sacks for end Kemoko Turay in the spring game. Still a relative neophyte in many respects, Turay continues to show flashes of ability as a pass rusher. The 6-6, 220-pound Turay is a rangy force off the edge who brings an intriguing blend of talents to the field for a defense that needs difference makers.

The quote: ‘”The past three years have been great. A lot of ups and downs. But I think this last year you just want to go out the right way and with a Big Ten schedule, there’s not a better way to do it.” — QB Gary Nova

Offseason to-do list

1. Work remains for the secondary. The group was part of a defense that yielded a school single-season record 4,056 passing yards in 2013. The return of corner Ian Thomas has helped. He quit the team in October but came back in January and could be Rutgers’ top defensive back. Early enrollee Kam Lott also turned heads.

2. Continue to refine the passing game. It didn’t help that the Scarlet Knights’ three top returning pass catchers—Ruhann Peele, Leonte Carroo along with tight end Tyler Kroft—missed the spring game with injury. That trio needs to get better, be leaders and help give this offense some downfield oomph.

3. The d-line must develop depth and playmakers. This is where it all starts for any defense. And Rutgers has a potentially special player in tackle Darius Hamilton. A ballyhooed recruit, Hamilton continued to develop in the spring and needs to be a disruptive force to help this still developing defense. The junior had four tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the spring game.

4. The offense needs to continue to embrace the attack of new coordinator Ralph Friedgen. It’s a varied offense that didn’t show a lot this spring, as the install continues to take place under the former Maryland head coach. Look for short passes and a physical running game to be top aspects of the offense. And when he led Maryland, Friedgen also liked to run his quarterback at times.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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