Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 4, 2016
Change is the operative word at Rutgers, as Chris Ash continues to put his stamp on the program after taking over for Kyle Flood.
Ash has work to do after arriving from a gig as defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Good thing his area of specialty is defense, as the Scarlet Knights need a lot of help on that side of the ball. Rutgers ranked No. 13 in the Big Ten in total defense in 2015 (462.0 ypg) and 12th in scoring (34.9 ppg). The back seven needs a lot of work, as the linebacking corps is being rebuilt and a young secondary needs to mature.
The offense will be undergoing a scheme change, adding to the critical nature of this spring. One of the biggest position battles will come at quarterback between Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. RU will use a ?power spread? scheme that is similar to what Ohio State operates. The line loses big left tackle Keith Lumpkin, but four other starters are back up front to offer stability. And there are some playmakers returning at wideout and running back, but stud receiver Leonte Carroo will be missed.
Here are three areas to watch this spring.
1. Linebackers. All three starters are gone, as the triumvirate of Kaiwan Lewis, Quentin Gause and Steve Longa has departed. Look for Deonte Roberts, Isaiah Johnson and TJ Taylor to be the front-runners to win starting jobs. This must be an active group that can take on physical rushing attacks while also playing in space. RU was No. 12 in the Big Ten vs. the run (186.1 ypg) and yielded a league-high 33 rushing TDs. The return of stud tackle Darius Hamilton from a knee injury that ruined his 2015 should help the LBs vs. the run.
2. Secondary. This unit struggled mightily last season. Rutgers was No. 12 in the Big Ten in pass defense last year (275.9 ypg). The Scarlet Knights were last in the conference in pass efficiency defense, as foes completed a Big Ten-high 64 percent of their passes. The RU secondary was riddled with youth last season, as three freshmen started. Perhaps that baptism by fire will pay dividends in 2016. Corners Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin are the most promising youngsters in the back end of this defense.
3. Quarterback. The offense is changing under Chris Ash, shifting from a pro-style to a ?power spread.? The attack basically will mimic Ohio State?s offense, as coordinator Drew Mehringer is a protégé of former Buckeye OC and current Houston coach Tom Herman. Both of last year?s signal-callers are back in Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. Laviano figures to have an edge in the competition since he started last year. And his skill set seems suited to what this attack wants to do from a dual-threat aspect. Whoever is quarterback will have some nice targets led by Andre Patton.
RUTGERS SPRING INFO
Record: 4-8 overall; 1-7 Big Ten/T6th East
Spring ball starts: March 24
Spring game: April 23
Key players back: CB Blessuan Austin; S Anthony Cioffi; OT J.J. Denman; WR Janarion Grant; DT Darius Hamilton; S Kiy Hester; RB Josh Hicks; NT Sebastian Joseph; DE Quanzell Lambert; QB Chris Laviano; RB Robert Martin; G Dorian Miller; G Chris Muller; C Derrick Nelson; WR Andre Patton; DT Julian Pinnix-Odrick; QB Hayden Rettig; CB Isaiah Wharton
Key players gone: WR Leonte Carroo; K Kyle Federico; LB Quentin Gause; RB Paul James; LB Kaiwan Lewis; LB Steve Longa; OT Keith Lumpkin; DE Djwany Mera
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