Rutgers is still in a holding pattern on spring practice — the Scarlet Knights remain in COVID-19 pause — but when it does get onto the field, it will have almost every key offensive player back and a player with starting experience returning at every position.
Yet plenty of important questions remain, particularly when it comes to the depth chart. Here is NJ Advance Media’s pre-spring practice projected offensive depth chart:
QB: Noah Vedral, Artur Sitkowski
Most of the Rutgers quarterback focus of late has been on the pursuit of 2022 recruit Gavin Wimsatt. But the passers already on campus will soon take center stage again.
Vedral will start the spring as the starter, and it will take a lot to unseat him. He had the best season for a Rutgers quarterback in years and the Scarlet Knights’ offense last season was objectively the best they have fielded since entering the Big Ten. Head coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson are truly all-in on Vedral — some would argue too much so — and their actions and words have made it clear they do not think Sitkowski is a long-term answer.
All that said, there was undoubtedly a smoke and mirrors element to the offensive success in 2020, and Vedral does have clear limitations. He may not have much competition on the roster, but he has plenty from the NCAA transfer portal. Rutgers made a run at Wisconsin’s Jack Coan before he committed to Notre Dame and it is open to the right fit as a summertime addition if one materializes after a post-spring wave of players enter the portal following the NCAA’s anticipated ruling on granting one-time free transfers.
RB: Isaih Pacheco, Aaron Young
As long as Pacheco is given a prominent role in the offense — and there were times last season when Rutgers seemed to struggle in utilizing him properly — he is a sure thing and one of the Scarlet Knights’ most dynamic playmakers. 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
Rutgers’ offensive line depth chart only means so much, as position coach Andy Aurich made it clear last season he will mix and match in whatever fashion necessary to get the best five available players on the field. But 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.
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. He will stick with O’Neal for now and form a solid left side.
C: Nick Krimin, C.J. Hanson
Krimin’s stay-or-go status was one of the more murkier ones heading into the offseason, but Rutgers is thrilled to have him back for a sixth season. The assumption is he will stick at center, but he can play both guard spots if Rutgers wants to move Felter on the ball or even put Hanson and his athleticism into the starting lineup.
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 (he started out at center as a freshman). If Rutgers has a viable alternative option at right tackle, Sutton should stick at guard. 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. That being said, Bordner could make a big push after playing well when given a chance last season.
TE: Jovani Haskins, Victor Konopka
The Rutgers staff has praised Haskins on several occasions and believes he will be a factor in the offense this season. He is clearly the top option at a position group that has struggled — a serviceable receiver who is inconsistent, but willing, as a blocker. Konopka has the size and athleticism to make a move and surpass everyone else in what has been a mostly 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 after his transfer from Wisconsin. 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].