Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, January 26, 2017
Chris Ash had a challenging debut in 2016 as he tries to flip the script on a Rutgers program that is looking for sustained success.
How bad was it last season? After a 2-1 start, the Scarlet Knights finished the season with nine losses in a row. The roster needs a talent infusion, as the offense is in search of more playmakers and the defense requires more speed and athletic ability. RU got shutout four times, scored seven points in two other games and had only 13 in another. In the last eight games, Rutgers yielded 24 or more points each time out. And the Scarlet Knights lost to East Division powers Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State by an aggregate 224-0.
Yes, RU had a difficult season, but it did lose some good players. Here are the five most key players who must be replaced.
SS Anthony Cioffi. A hard-hitter in the back-end of the defense, Cioffi played in 46 career games and made 33 starts. He often directed traffic in the secondary, making sure people were lined up correctly. Cioffi finished third on the team in tackles with 63–most among defensive backs–and also broke up four passes. He leaves campus with a career total of 168 tackles.
DT Darius Hamilton. He meant a lot to the defense, playing 51 career games. Hamilton was a leader who led Scarlet Knight defensive linemen in tackles with 56. Hamilton also had 2.5 TFLS. He was awarded the David Bender Trophy as the top lineman on the team at the senior banquet. Hamilton made 91 career tackles and leave with 11 career sacks and 27 TFLs.
RG Chris Muller. He played in 50 career games with 49 starts. Mueller became the 23rd player and only the second offensive lineman in school history to play in 50 career games. He never missed a game and started the last 49 of career, helping the Scarlet Knights average 144.9 yards rushing in 201.
C Derrick Nelson. A bellwether on the interior of the line, Nelson started 23 games over last two seasons. He earned the Paul Robeson Award at the senior banquet for making an impact through performance, leadership and dedication on and off the field and was named to the Academic All-Big Ten squad.
DE Julian Pinnix-Odrick. An active force up front who was a defensive anchor, Pinnix-Odrick made 24 starts the last two seasons. Last season, he made 52 tackles, including 22 solo stops. And he paced the squad with 10 TFLs and five sacks. He picked up the Homer Hazel Award at the senior banquet as the most valuable player on the team and was named to the Academic All-Big Ten list.