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August 5, 2013

A changing of the guard at Rutgers

At the outset of training camp, Rutgers featured a pair of new starting offensive guards. Yesterday, another twist was thrown into the guard situation as a new-look offensive line is starting to take shape.

The primary competition on the offensive line appeared to be at right guard where redshirt freshman Chris Muller started the summer ahead of fifth-year senior Antwan Lowery.

But after suffering an ankle injury yesterday, Lowery was not on the field for today's practice and he is not expected to return this week.

So, just as it has been through the start of camp, Muller and junior Kaleb Johnson continued to line up as the starting offensive guards.

Johnson lined up every game last year at left tackle, but may have found a better fit at guard.

"It's such a different position even though it's only one person over," head coach Kyle Flood said in his post-practice media address. "At tackle, the game is much more about timing whereas at guard everything happens right now and it's much more of a power game. And [Kaleb's] body type is really built to play inside. Now, he was the best left tackle we had last year so that's where he played for us and we had to do that. But as long as we can get really good production out of our left tackle, whether it's Keith [Lumpkin] or it's Andre [Civil], I think we'll be a better football team with Kaleb at guard."

Johnson has also been mentoring Muller, who is already among the strongest offensive linemen.

"Kaleb Johnson has taken me under his wing and really helped me progress," Muller said after today's practice. "He's a role model on and off the field because he always makes the right decisions. I just have to take everything with a grain of salt and keep playing my best every day."

Now that Lowery is down with injury, there is an opening for some playing time on the two-deep.

"It gives opportunity to people," Flood said. "Antwan has obviously played a lot of football for us last year. I think you have guys now like Marquise [Wright], who is going to have an opportunity. You have a guy like Bryan Leoni, who is going to have opportunities. And who knows? We have some younger players, a guy like Dorian Miller who is not really in the two-deep right now but I think at this stage of training camp, you have to be open to anything because he is still learning the offense. And also maybe some veterans who haven't played as much, a guy like Chris Fonti is going to have opportunities as well."

Miller is one of the more intriguing candidates as he joined the team this summer in prime physical condition.

"He is a big athletic guy, just like we thought he would be. He is in excellent shape," Flood said of Miller. "For a freshman offensive lineman to get into that kind of cardiovascular shape over the summer is really a great accomplishment and I thought he did a tremendous job in the summer program. Even though we are not allowed to be there, you see the results of it when we do our conditioning tests. He passed our conditioning test the first time, which was excellent. Eighteen 110's is not an easy thing to do. We knew he was a big powerful guy but he's in great shape, which gives him a chance."

There remains the possibility of moving Andre Civil back to guard where he started nine games last season.

However, Flood is not looking to explore that route anytime soon.

"Andre is very valuable to us as a third tackle," he said. "I think that spot is where he is right now and really fighting to be a starting tackle. I don't know if it's in our best interest in the long term to do that. At some point, some of these younger guys have to continue to progress to the point where we feel comfortable putting them into the game."


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