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March 10, 2009

Rutgers likely to rely on ground game in 2009

Rutgers went to a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season, but it wasn't easy.

The Scarlet Knights started 1-5 before ending the season on a seven-game winning streak, including a bowl win over NC State. The turnaround was spurred by a productive passing attack, but Rutgers has to replace its starting quarterback and its starting wide receivers.

This season, though, all the pieces appear to be in place for a strong rushing attack.

Here's a look at the Scarlet Knights as they prepare for spring practice.

RUTGERS AT-A-GLANCE
Kordell Young leads a stable of backs returning for the Scarlet Knights.
THE BASICS
Coach: Greg Schiano
Last season: 8-5, 5-2 Big East. Beat NC State in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
Spring dates: March 10-April 18
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (8): C Ryan Blaszczyk, FB Jack Corcoran, T Anthony Davis, G Art Forst, TE Shamar Graves, T Kevin Haslam, G Caleb Ruch, TB Kordell Young.
Defense (6): LB Manny Abreu, LB Ryan D'Imperio, E George Johnson, SS Joe Lefeged, CB Devin McCourty, T Alex Silvestro.
Special teams (2): P Teddy Dellaganna, K San San Te.
Positions of strength

With five starters back on the offensive line and the top four running backs also in the fold, the ground game should be strong. The front seven on defense has a chance to be stout, especially the linebacking crew.

Help is needed

You may want to cover your eyes when Rutgers tries to pass. Quarterback Mike Teel and his top two receivers, Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, are gone. Plus, Dennis Campbell, who would've pressed for a starting job, was dismissed from the team last week for a violation of team policy. The secondary needs two new starters. Coaches also need a pass rusher to emerge.

Keep an eye on

DE Jonathan Freeny: He's still a relatively raw prospect, but he teems with pass-rushing potential. Freeny, a junior, has a quick first step.

LB Antonio Lowery: Lowery, a junior, will get every opportunity to take over as the starting weakside linebacker. He has done a nice job on special teams and as a backup, and he now needs to show he can be an every-down player.

CB David Rowe: His size, speed and instincts make him a potential all-star candidate. He's a sophomore and there is a cornerback spot up for grabs. As with the other two players in this category, Rowe is a Floridian.

His time is now

With a massive void at wide receiver, Tim Brown, a senior, needs to step up as a big-play threat so defenses can't focus on stopping the run. Brown has 59 catches in three seasons, but he could get the opportunity to catch that many this season alone. He needs to develop some consistency and show he can be the go-to guy.

The buzz

With eight starters back on offense and six on defense, Rutgers has a chance to go to a fifth bowl in a row. The big key: finding a decent quarterback. Senior Domenic Natale, who began his career at Michigan State, and redshirt freshman D.C. Jefferson will get a chance to impress this spring because senior Jabu Lovelace will be out of action following ankle surgery. In the fall, the highly touted Tom Savage arrives. Breaking in a bunch of new receivers is vital, too.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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