Spring Practice Primer: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Kyle Flood enters his second year as head coach with two new coordinators and seven starters to replace on defense.
College football never ends, and during the next few weeks, teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice began: March 26
Spring game: April 27
2012 record: 9-5 overall, 5-2 Big East
Returning starters: 10 (six offense, four defense)
The Least You Should Know about Rutgers This Spring
-- The Big East's best defense is in the midst of an overhaul. Rutgers' defense led the Big East last season, allowing just 13 points per game in conference play as the Scarlet Knights claimed a share of their first Big East title. But nine of the top 13 tacklers from 2012 are gone, including seasoned vets like Steve Beauharnais, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan, Scott Vallone, Khaseem Green -- all players who earned All-Big East honors. Defensive coordinator Dave Cohen was promoted after serving exclusively as linebackers' coach in 2012, and now he has the challenge of rebuilding the strength of last year's squad.
The main area of concern for this spring will be filling the holes in the back seven. Jamal Merrell, Kevin Snyder and Nick DePaola are the linebackers with the most experience, but the coaching staff is planning to give redshirt freshmen Quanzell Lambert and Steve Longa chances to compete for playing time. The Scarlet Knights only return strong safety Lorenzo Waters in the secondary. Running back/wide receiver Jeremy Deering has been permanently moved to free safety, already earning the starter's nod on the pre-spring depth chart. Cornerback, however, appears to be an open competition. Junior Gareef Glashen, redshirt freshman Ian Thomas, sophomore Tejay Johnson, redshirt freshman Jevon Tyree and freshman Deion Stephenson will all get good looks this spring.
-- This is Savon Huggins' time to step up. New Jersey's No. 1 recruit in the 2011 class spent most of his first two seasons backing up Jawan Jamison. Huggins was given plenty of opportunities, but injuries and inconsistent production kept the former five-star running back from challenging Jamison for the starting job. Jamison decided to enter the NFL draft after totaling 1,972 yards in two seasons, leaving Huggins as the only running back on the depth chart with significant experience. Huggins was able to raise his yards per carry from 2.61 to 3.45 last season, but the talented junior knows he will need to become more effective to earn the Big East-leading 255 rushing attempts that Jamison got in 2012.
"My goal is to get 1,300, 1,400 yards this season, and it's starting now," Huggins told reporters after the Scarlet Knights' second practice. "It started in the offseason. So this is the next phase, then going into the season. I want to continue to take care of my body, stay in the film room, continue to learn the offense."
At least Huggins' expectations for himself match -- or exceed -- the expectations from outside. If Rutgers is going to make a run at another Big East title before bolting for the Big Ten, Huggins will need to rise to the challenge.
-- Ron Prince brings a fresh start on offense. The offensive struggles of 2012 can be blamed, in part, on the short stay of offensive coordinator Dave Brock. He was the Scarlet Knights' third offensive coordinator in as many years, and the lack of continuity could be a reason the offense scored only four touchdowns in the final four games -- including none in the 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl. That offense gets a fresh start in 2013 under new offensive coordinator Ron Prince. The former Kansas State head coach has been an assistant at Virginia and in the NFL since his time in Manhattan, and his challenge is to improve a unit that ranked No. 104 nationally in total offense a season ago. Quarterback Gary Nova is expected to remain the starter, but Chas Dodd will once again be given the opportunity to compete this spring for first-string snaps. Prince also needs to identify the rotation along the offensive line. Starting right guard Andre Civil has already moved to right tackle, and Taj Alexander will compete with Chris Muller for the open right-guard position. The left-side starers are set with Betim Bujari, Antwan Lowery and Kaleb Johnson returning, but the depth along the entire offensive line could use some help this spring. There is also a clean slate for the wide receivers. Leading receiver Brandon Coleman -- just four touchdowns shy of the school record -- will miss spring practice after undergoing a "minor procedure" on his knee. That leaves plenty of reps for senior Quron Pratt, junior Miles Shuler and sophomore Leonte Carroo to make impressions on the staff as Prince tries to replace three of the top four receivers from 2012.
-- With a move to the Big Ten in 2014, expectations are only rising for Rutgers football. The Scarlet Knights just won a share of their first Big East title; the first conference title of any sort in 41 years. Greg Schiano's rebuilding project resulted in seven bowl appearances in eight years, passing the keys to Kyle Flood after Schiano left for the NFL. Flood had a shortened timetable for adjustment to the head coaching role, but he was successful in continuing the momentum started by the veteran group.
With Big Ten play beginning in 2014, Rutgers knows the expectations must be raised for the football program to continue their winning ways. This year, Flood introduces two new coordinators and begins building the next crop of veteran leaders. It is possible that a school-record six Scarlet Knights could have their names called in April's NFL Draft, and finding those replacements will take time. The staff is hoping to identify several key contributors this spring so that they will waste no time getting the program ready for life in the Big Ten.
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