Rutgers football is back.
Well, sort of.
The Scarlet Knights’ early enrollees and mid-year transfers reported to campus this weekend prior to the start of the program’s offseason training this week. We still do not know when spring practice will begin, or what it will look like, amid the coronavirus pandemic. But Year 2 of Greg Schiano’s second tenure at the helm is officially here.
It’s never too early to start talking depth chart. So here is our first crack at the 2021 two-deep on offense (defense and special teams will come Tuesday):
QB: Noah Vedral, Artur Sitkowski
Rutgers did not find an adequate fit in the NCAA transfer portal during the first wave of free agency — although it tried with new Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan — and there is no guarantee it will find one when things start churning again after spring practices. And if the Scarlet Knights stand pat, it is clear Vedral will enter training camp as the heavy favorite to be the starter for the second straight season.
Vedral had the best season for a Rutgers quarterback in years. And the offense was objectively the best the Scarlet Knights have fielded since entering the Big Ten. But there was certainly a smoke and mirrors element to the success and Vedral does have clear limitations. Still, Greg Schiano and Sean Gleeson are truly all-in on him — some would argue too much so. If there is no transfer addition will take an extraordinary offseason by Sitkowski to unseat Vedral.
RB: Isaih Pacheco, Aaron Young
Pacheco went through a lull in the middle of the season and there were times it felt like it was a struggle to find a role for him in the offense. But he is still one of Rutgers’ most dynamic offensive weapons and the obvious lead back. Young has the versatility Gleeson craves, but he needs to get more touches in 2021. Kay’Ron Adams’ transfer to UMass opens the door for Jamier Wright-Collins to be the bruising change-of-pace back.
LT: Raiqwon O’Neal, Hollin Pierce
O’Neal is locked in on the blind side. Pierce, a walk-on from Trenton, worked his way up the depth chart last season after transforming his body in strength coach Jay Butler’s program. Pierce is listed at 6-foot-8, 354 pounds and had lost 50-plus pounds at last update.
LG: Bryan Felter, Sam Vretman
Felter took over as the starter in the second half of last season. He could be a candidate to bump inside to center eventually as he did not appear to move as quickly on pulls as Rutgers’ other guards.
C: Nick Krimin*, C.J. Hanson
This spot comes with an asterisk. There has been no indication on whether Krimin will return for a sixth year or move on at this point. If he comes back, he figures to be the center again. If he does not, it should be Hanson’s spot.
RG: Reggie Sutton, Cedrice Paillant
Sutton moved inside from tackle down the stretch last season and he was always projected as a potential interior lineman, so look for him to stay put assuming Rutgers can afford it. His athleticism makes him a good fit. Paillant started last season and played better as the year progressed, but there may be enough options available to move him to a reserve role.
RT: David Nwaogwugwu, Brendan Bordner
Nwaogwugwu does not have much starting experience. But if Rutgers gave the Temple transfer a scholarship slot, it has to expect he will be a plug-and-play guy.
TE: Jovani Haskins, Victor Konopka
This is arguably the weakest position on the team. Haskins is a serviceable pass catcher who is inconsistent as a blocker. Konopka has the size and athleticism to make a move and surpass everyone else in what has been an underwhelming room.
WR: Bo Melton, Ahmirr Robinson
Melton was arguably the team MVP last season. Robinson has immense promise and his size could give Rutgers the big body deep ball threat it has lacked in recent seasons.
WR: Aron Cruickshank, Joshua Youngblood
Wideouts coach Tiquan Underwood helped Cruickshank make the transition from elite return man to playmaking receiver. Now he will attempt to do the same with Youngblood, who was an All-American at Kansas State.
WR: Shameen Jones, Isaiah Washington
Jones was the team’s most improved player in 2020 and figures to be a key contributor in 2021. Washington has potential, but he did not produce much after starting for all of 2019. Will he work his way into a bigger role?
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James Kratch may be reached at [email protected].