The opening kick-off is almost here, yet several questions are still burning in the mind of Scarlet Nation writer Bobby Deren. Today we'll count down those questions, starting with the cornerback position and ending with our #1 question heading into the 2010 season.
5.) Who will start at cornerback?
David Rowe is feeling more confident as the No. 1 cornerback this summer. He seems to have more poise, maturity and confidence out on the field. The hotter topic is who will line up opposite Rowe? For now, that appears to be senior Brandon Bing. Head coach Greg Schiano praised Bing at the end of camp, saying the last week and a half was his best stretch of practice yet. However, Schiano has also stated that all the cornerbacks in that mix will play against Norfolk State. That means Logan Ryan will see his first ever game action and Brandon Jones will also get some run. Both of those players have been solid, but the job appears to be Bing's to lose for now. Last season, Bing's stint as a starter lasted only two games. This year, a more seasoned Bing may be able to hold onto that spot but that competition will continue into the season. The first two games could also play a big part in which cornerback will be the starter for the long haul.
4.) How good is this Rutgers defense?
The defense has the makings of being a very special one, although the proof is in the pudding. Throughout training camp, you could read between the lines of Greg Schiano's press conferences to conclude that the defense has looked very good against a young inexperienced offense. Furthermore, the havoc created by the defense has come at the expense of an RU offensive line that is just trying to gel. Regardless of how green the RU offense may be, the defense has proven that is very stout.
On each level of the defense, there is a star in the making. On the first level, defensive tackle Scott Vallone was virtually unblockable at times this summer. Behind him, linebacker Steve Beauharnais provided the hardest hits of the summer. And in the secondary, Khaseem Greene looks as though he could be in store for a monstrous year. Combine those three with a group of talented veterans such as Alex Silvestro, Jonathan Freeny, Charlie Noonan, Antonio Lowery and Joe Lefeged and Rutgers could have one of the best defenses in the Big East.
One of the areas that hurt the RU defense in the past was that of team speed. Beauharnais and Greene both bring excellent speed and have already shaped up an area that was lacking in the past. The play of those two could be very key to the entire defense this season. But it is a defense that has improved their overall speed from east to west, which could be the biggest difference in that unit.
3.) What will the running back rotation look like?
One thing is for sure, Joe Martinek will get his share of carries. Now, with Mason Robinson moving out of the rotation and Casey Turner still bothered by injury, Jordan Thomas appears to be the new guy in the RU backfield. Thomas has been very impressive through the last week of camp and has shown a burst that the Scarlet Knights have not had since Ray Rice. Thomas' quickness also enables him to bounce plays to the outside and gives the RU offense a home-run threat at any given time. Meanwhile, sophomore DeAntwan Williams may be on the outside looking. However, Williams will probably get some carries against Norfolk State to stake his claim for more playing time. Lastly, Kordell Young will be limited to a 3rd down role and could to see a limited amount of reps against Norfolk State.
2.) Who will be the top four wide receivers against Norfolk State?
Mohamed Sanu is the only certainty. It also a certainty that Timothy Wright and Quron Pratt will not play and it seems as though J.T. Tartacoff will be sidelined as well. Mark Harrison's status remains up in the air although, with a head injury, his prospects may be bleak. That leaves plenty of youth an inexperience for game one.
Robinson's recent move to wide receiver is a strong indication he will see his share of reps and Jeremy Deering is a likely candidate to round out the top three receivers. Scouring for that No. 4 receiver is likely to stop at Keith Stroud, who may finally get the opportunity to cash in on all the potential he brought with him to Piscataway. Keep in mind, that the Norfolk State contest is likely to turn into a laugher, which could mean more reps for other young receivers like Aaron Hayward and Jawaun Wynn.
1.) Will the offensive line be effective?
Right now, this is the unit that is most critical to the team's success. A failure to protect quarterback Tom Savage could mean a long season. Throughout camp, Howard Barbieri has been solid and Desmond Stapleton is growing more confident as the starting left tackle. The rest of the offensive line raises a few more question marks. Art Forst is still easing into the transition of moving from guard to tackle. Caleb Ruch is still trying to prove he is a capable starter at guard and Desmond Wynn is trying to move past the fact that he was sidelined through the entire spring. Wynn is also still very new to the position. His only experience on the offensive line prior to last season was a as a receiving tight end in high school.
Beyond the starters, the depth is not very reassuring. Betim Bujari, who enrolled early and was an early offer by the Rutgers staff, may be the most intriguing of the backups, while Antwan Lowery's progress was put on hold during camp with a thumb injury. Those two players appear to be the next in line to take over starting spots while Devon Watkis may still be a little ways off from being trusted as a astarter. Moreover, Lowery and Bujari are still very young and handing them the duty of protecting Savage could be a lot too ask this early in their careers.