March 10, 2008

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
Head coach: Greg Schiano
Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-4 in the Big East; won 50-30 over Ball State in the International Bowl.
Spring practice: March 11-April 19.

Rutgers slipped from its unprecedented heights of 2006 but still made its third consecutive bowl appearance under Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights' biggest obstacle to reaching a fourth bowl game in four seasons will be replacing Ray Rice, the school's leading career rusher. Rutgers also needs to replace some of the key cogs in its defense from the past two seasons, most notably T Eric Foster and SS Ron Girault. Here's a look at the Scarlet Knights as they get ready for spring drills.

RUTGERS
Mike Teel is back at QB but his supporting cast needs redeveloped.

RETURNING STARTERS
EARLY ENROLLEES
OT Art Forst (from high school), QB Stephen Shimko (high school), WR Keith Stroud (high school).

POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Rutgers joined Texas Tech and Hawaii as the only three teams in the country with two 1,000-yard wide receivers. Britt and Underwood combined for 2,332 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches. Third receiver Tim Brown doesn't get the touches Britt and Underwood get, but he can be just as dangerous with his speed. The Scarlet Knights got a boost for their secondary when Greene elected to return to school rather than enter the NFL draft. Along with the McCourty twins, Rutgers returns three starters in a secondary that ranked fifth nationally in pass defense and 16th in pass-efficiency defense.

HELP IS NEEDED

First Brian Leonard, now Rice. The backfield will undergo another makeover in 2008. Kordell Young was the heir apparent to Rice, but Young missed all but three games following knee surgery. He will miss spring drills, too. That could open the door for Mason Robinson, who was last year's backup. Redshirt freshmen Jourdan Brooks and Joe Martinek also will compete. Production along the defensive line took a dip last season after DT Ramel Meekins graduated. Now Foster is gone. The Scarlet Knights will look to two seniors to produce this season. Tverdov started eight games last year, and Vantrise Studivant has been a three-year backup.

KEEP AN EYE ON

LB Ryan D'Imperio: Much was expected of D'Imperio last spring before a broken leg ended his spring and limited him for much of 2007. This season is a second chance for him to deliver on his promise at middle linebacker.

SS Joe Lefeged: He made an impression as a redshirt freshman last season with his aggressive style of play in a reserve role. With Girault's departure, he'll vie for starting time.

G Caleb Ruch: The redshirt freshman takes over the right guard spot as Davis moves to left tackle. With the departure of three standout offensive linemen, the Scarlet Knights need Ruch to grow up in a hurry.

HIS TIME IS NOW

Teel had a fine season in 2007, but benefited greatly from a supporting cast that included Rice and two 1,000-yard receivers. Without Rice, more will be on the shoulders of Teel - a senior who must play more consistently in 2008 and avoid turnovers.

THE BUZZ

Schiano has proved he could build a program. Now, can he sustain it? Spring practice will offer a glimpse. Much of the nucleus from Rutgers' 2005-07 teams is gone, leaving youth to lead the way. This will be most pronounced at tailback, where two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore will vie for the opportunity to replace Rice.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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