Dienhart: 5 things I learned at Rutgers football practice

@BTNTomDienhart

Dienhart: 5 things I learned at Rutgers football practice

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The arrival of Chris Ash has energized a Rutgers program that is looking to build. And, Ash has some players to work with. But work must be done, especially in the back seven of the defense and at quarterback.

Here are five things I learned watching the Scarlet Knights.

1. The quarterback situation remains fluid. The staff recently made Chris Laviano and Zach Allen co-No. 1s. Hayden Rettig has fallen to No. 3. Ash wants an offense that mimics what Ohio State does, a spread scheme that is built on a strong running game. Are these QBs a good fit for that? None is a top runner. Keep an eye on Allen, a transfer from TCU who has two years of eligibility remaining. Allen was a top dual-threat recruit out of Texas coming out of high school and could be a fit for coordinator Drew Mehringer’s system. But Allen threw three passes at TCU and was converted to wideout as he played behind Trevone Boykin.

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2. This o-line is good. In fact, it may be one of the better areas on the offense. And, that’s good. With a good line returning, expect more of an emphasis on the ground game that went missing for long stretches in 2015. Guard Chris Muller is the cornerstone. At 6-6, 320, he is a load who can dominate inside as a punishing blocker. And Derrick Nelson is a strong center. A big key? The tackles. Tariq Cole is a massive sophomore who has been taken over the left tackle spot with Keith Lumpkin gone. Zack Heeman has unseated J.J. Denman at right tackle.

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3. Leonte Carroo is gone, but there are options. Janarion Grant is a difference-maker for a nice corps of wideouts. He was underutilized and suffered too many drops in the past. Now, he is expected to excel in the new spread offense. He looks good on bubble screens. Just get him the ball in space. The previous staff had trouble finding ways to use Grant, but offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer has made him a priority. Andre Patton is a big, rangy target who should make a lot of plays. This is a nice tandem. And keep an eye on Carlton Agudosi and diminutive redshirt freshman Jawuan Harris.

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4. The back seven on defense needs to develop. The secondary has floundered each of the last three years, be it trying to stop the pass or make tackles in space. Youth was served last season, so maybe the experience will pay off. The good news: Chris Ash is an expert at secondary play. CB Isaiah Wharton is a building block. Keep an eye on Michigan grad transfer Ross Douglas. The other corner is Bleussuan Austin. He and Wharton are big corners. Safety Anthony Cioffi can find the ball and make tackles. The linebacking corps has three new starters—and a whole lot to prove. The new guys need to be better in coverage than last year’s linebackers. Najee Clayton could help. Deonte Roberts is the man in the middle. Stay tuned. The back seven must develop for a defense that was 111th in the nation in total D last year. The Scarlet Knights fell apart over the second half of last season, allowing 46 points or more in five of the last seven games and 31 or more in seven of the last eight.

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5. The RB tandem of Robert Martin and Justin Goodwin is pretty good. Each is a big, physical back. Speed? It’s good enough. If Martin and Goodwin can make a jump to the next level, the offense has a chance to be pretty good. Martin is a tough, physical runner who can be a workhorse. Josh Hicks has fallen down the depth chart but could work his way back into the good graces of the staff. He has some giddy-up, is able to hit the hole quickly and can go the distance. Trey Sneed is a nice-looking freshman.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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