5 biggest concerns I have about Rutgers
Greg Schiano 2.0 is off and running.
After a 3-6 performance in 2020, Rutgers is set to return all but 2 starters in 2021. But there are still areas of concern for Schiano’s group in the second season of his second stint in New Brunswick.
1. Can the offensive line hold up?
Last year, Rutgers allowed 21 sacks — a mark that ranked tied for 12th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten.
If the Scarlet Knights want to move up in the standings this year, the offensive line has to be shored up. Schiano sounds optimistic about its improvement, adding that it’s been a “tremendous competition.”
“They are much more physically-competent guys than we’ve had before, and some of them are the same guys — they’ve just changed their bodies and really gotten themselves in a position to play the position in the Big Ten,” Schiano said. “It’s a tough, tough spot to play in the Big Ten. The problem is, we need them to be really good now, and the offensive line is probably the position that takes the most time to develop.”
The offense can run more efficiently if the offensive line develops, because it’ll give the quarterback more time to make decisions. Which goes hand-in-hand with the next question:
2. Can Noah Vedral stay healthy?
Noah Vedral saw the most snaps at quarterback last season for Rutgers — but he also dealt with his share of injuries.
Not only did he hurt his ankle in the penultimate game, he also played through a broken thumb. The Scarlet Knights had a more than capable backup in Artur Sitkowski, but he transferred to Illinois.
Considering how many starters Rutgers brings back, Vedral’s health will be one of the biggest keys to success. He sure sounds committed to playing every game, too.
“I’m making progress and I’m able to practice, so I’m feeling good,” Vedral said in April. “I’m excited for the spring and my ankle, whatever else I’m dealing with, really shouldn’t hold me out too much.”
Sitkowski was the backup last season, but Schiano still hasn’t named a backup for Vedral for this year. That’ll be another important storyline to follow as we head into the final weeks of the offseason, especially given Vedral’s history.
3. Will depth be an issue for the defensive line?
More than half of Rutgers’ defensive linemen are freshmen, some of them true freshmen.
Although seniors Mike Tverdov, Julius Turner and CJ Onyechi are all coming back after strong 2020 seasons, Schiano has to round out the defensive line after Michael Dwumfour went to the NFL.
He has options, but not many with experience. Although the three key contributors are back, what will he do with the fourth spot? And while we’re at it, is there enough depth for sustained success?
It sounds like Schiano plans to use a good amount of those young linemen.
“We love to play eight to 10 to 11 guys and literally, like hockey, keep rolling guys out there fresh,” Schiano said. “At some point, a tired so-and-so is better than a fresh so-and-so. That’s when you stop. So again, those plays are earned. We don’t just do it because that’s our philosophy. But if we have the guys to do it, that is our philosophy.”
4. Can Valentino Ambrosio keep making FGs?
At this time last year, Valentino Ambrosio was a soccer player at Rutgers. Then, he joined the football team as a walk-on mid-year and went 9-for-11 on field goals.
With a full training camp under his belt, he has a great opportunity to pick up where he left off and be a reliable piece for the Scarlet Knights — and his confidence is sky high.
“Transferring from a soccer player and coming in last year, and then eventually taking over, it was a little different trying to build up that confidence,” Ambrosio said. “But now going through the spring to now, I’m building all that competence up. Just have to keep getting reps and getting more confident. My confidence is really through the roof.”
Having a kicker you can count on is a great weapon to have in the arsenal. If Ambrosio’s that guy, Rutgers can use field position to its advantage in late-game situations.
5. Veterans return — Will they develop?
With so many starters returning from last year, Schiano has the pieces to build off the sub-.500 campaign and make some noise in the Big Ten this season.
“I think what it allows you to do is do what you do, but do it better. You have more cumulative repetitions,” Schiano said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily more. More isn’t always better. You just have to do things better. The temptation is to do more. I’m a big believer in multiple reps, cumulative reps and getting better at something. The team you are going against, they’ve been doing the same thing. You really have to execute at a high level.”
All that’s left to see is if experience translates to more wins.