March 20, 2010

Rutgers building toward Big East title

Rutgers has become a perennial bowl team under Greg Schiano, a once-unthinkable notion for Scarlet Knights fans.

The next step - a Big East title - might not be too far off. The Scarlet Knights open spring with a young team, but they are building around potential star quarterback Tom Savage.

However, there are some offensive questions. Anthony Davis left school a year early for the draft and left a huge hole on the offensive line. The Scarlet Knights still are looking for a running back to come close to the production of former standout Ray Rice.

The defense should be strong once again with six returning starters. That doesn't include rising star linebacker Steve Beauharnais and sack leader Jonathan Freeny.

Here's a look at the Scarlet Knights as they begin spring practice.

Tom Savage is a budding star at quarterback.
Coach: Greg Schiano
Last season: 9-4 overall, 3-4 in the Big East. Beat UCF 45-24 in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Spring dates: March 23-April 24
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (6): G/C Howard Barbieri, G Art Forst, TE D.C. Jefferson, RB Joe Martinek, WR Mohamed Sanu, QB Tom Savage.
Defense (6): SS Joe Lefeged, LB Antonio Lowery, T Charlie Noonan, CB David Rowe, E Alex Silvestro, T Scott Vallone.
Special teams (2): P Teddy Dellaganna, K San San Te.

The sophomore tandem of Savage and Mohamed Sanu form the nucleus of the offense. Both will garner all-conference honors in the future, perhaps as early as this season. Sanu also takes snaps in Rutgers' Wildcat formation. Rutgers will miss George Johnson, but they do return three starting defensive linemen to a team that led the nation in tackles for a loss. The Scarlet Knights will be particularly strong up the middle with Scott Vallone and Charlie Noonan.


Schiano needs several offensive linemen to play to their potential. The unit appeared to one of the best in the country going into the season in 2009, but the line did not dominate even with Davis. Caleb Ruch and Desmond Stapleton need to perform because there's not much depth. After the departure of Tim Brown, Rutgers needs to find depth at wide receiver beyond Sanu. That might have to wait until the arrival of four-star freshman Brandon Coleman in the fall. Depth at running back is a problem, too. Joe Martinek and walk-on Tyrone Putman are the only tailbacks on the spring roster.


LB Steve Beauharnais: He could be a key player on the Rutgers defense after recording 36 tackles as a freshman last season. He could get a look at the middle linebacker spot vacated by Ryan D'Imperio.

TE D.C. Jefferson: He was the backup quarterback last spring but split time at tight end last season. Now he has all spring to learn the position. Schiano said he has all the tools to succeed but obviously lacks experience.

OL Antwan Lowery: Rutgers needs to bolster its depth on the offensive line. The Scarlet Knights are doing so by moving Lowery, a former defensive tackle, to offense. Lowery is the brother of starting LB Antonio Lowery.


LB Manny Abreu: He was one of the gems of the 2007 signing class, but he hasn't done much in two seasons on the field. He has to grab a starting spot soon or there might not be one for him anymore. Veterans Jim Dumont and Marvin Booker are in the mix as is Ka'Lial Glaud, who played last season as a true freshman.


Rutgers will be a team to watch in the Big East race. It returns two of the best playmakers in the conference in Savage and Sanu to go with a traditionally tough defense. The Scarlet Knights have work to do in many areas, particularly in building depth. Several veterans will be under pressure to perform this spring - particularly at receiver and secondary - before a talented freshman class arrives in the fall.

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at

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