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5 Emerging Spring Practice Battles for Rutgers Football

Let’s look at a couple story-lines and position battles that will begin to heat up in spring practice.

Isaiah Johnson

Isaiah Johnson


Rutgers football finished 8-5 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten in their first season in the conference and kicks off their 2015 campaign with spring practice on March 30.

The team loses key players including starting quarterback Gary Nova, who started 41 games under center during his time “on the banks”. Offensive linemen Betim Bujari and Kaleb Johnson will have to be replaced with the latter starting 50 games along the line at Rutgers. NFL Combine invitee’s tight end Tyler Kroft and fullback Michael Burton will be lost as Burton brought toughness and superb blocking, to the football team that can’t be replaced by one individual.

The team got blown away by the conference powerhouses including eventual National Champion Ohio State, but there is reason for optimism starting with the progress of former 5-star defensive tackle Darius Hamilton who will be entering his senior season along with star receiver Leonte Carroo.

Let’s look at a couple storylines and position battles that will begin to heat up in spring practice.


  1. Quarterback: As you know, Nova is not around anymore, and he finished as the school’s leader with 73 total touchdowns, second in passing yards (9,258), and put together seven career fourth quarter or overtime come from behind wins. Waiting in the wings to duke it out is last-season’s backup redshirt sophomore Chris Laviano and LSU transfer and former 4-star quarterback Hayden Rettig. Laviano got some experience when he went in for Nova during the loss at Nebraska and showed off an added dimension with the ability to run. Rettig looks to have natural arm talent and newly appointed offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels will have some new toys to play with and get ready for primetime. Redshirt freshman Giovanni Rescingo will also vie for the starting job as well.
  1. Offensive Line: Paired with a new quarterback is an unproven offensive line. Rutgers will need the line to gel quickly after losing three starters in Bujari, Johnson, and Taj Alexander. All five starters started every game last season. Senior Keith Lumpkin is back to man the left tackle spot and junior Chris Muller will either start at guard or center. Junior J.J. Denman is likely to take over fulltime at right tackle, which he shared last season with Alexander. Redshirt junior Derrick Nelson will push to start at center while sophomore Dorian Miller looks to man the right guard position. Other guard possibilities will be redshirt junior Ryan Brodie and redshirt freshman Tariq Cole. Building depth is also key and look for redshirt freshmen Marcus Applefield and Zack Heeman to improve at the tackle positions.
  1. Defensive Tackle: The defensive line, or more so the nose tackle spot, will have a different look this season. Gone is Kenneth Kirksey who seemed to be at Rutgers forever and coach Kyle Flood will now need a space-eater to take on double teams. Battling for the aforementioned spot will be redshirt sophomore Sebastian Joseph and redshirt freshman Kevin Wilkins. The void is bigger because Daryl Stephenson opted not to return for his redshirt senior season. Behind Hamilton at the three-technique will be redshirt freshman Eric Wiafe and converted defensive end redshirt junior Julian Pinnix-Odrick will add to the depth at tackle and end.
  1. Strong Safety: Another interesting battle will be at the strong safety spot. At the free, junior Delon Stephenson looks to have a firm grasp, but the strong safety is a bigger question mark. Gone is three-year starter Lorenzo Waters and in are redshirt junior Davon Jacobs, and redshirt freshman Miami, Fla transfer Kiy Hester. Jacobs was the backup to Waters last season. Are the former high school teammates ready to battle it out again?
  1. Middle Linebacker: The Mike linebacker (middle) spot is open with Kevin Snyder graduating. Last year’s backup L.J. Liston was dismissed from the team earlier this month which opens up a bigger opportunity for transfer Isaiah Johnson from the City College of San Francisco, who enrolled early this spring semester. Redshirt junior Steve Longa started at the Mike as a freshman, but moved to the weak side last season. Longa could return to the middle this season or stay at the weak side. South Carolina transfer Kaiwan Lewis will be at Rutgers in the summer and will look to learn the defense quickly and battle for the middle in camp.

Four early enrollees for the 2015 class include defensive back Blessaun Austin, defensive tackle Jon Bateky, Johnson, and linebacker Deonte Roberts.

Coach Flood will hold a press conference regarding spring practice on Friday, March 27 at noon at the Hale Center.

The annual Scarlet-White Game will be under the lights at High Point Solutions Stadium on Friday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m.



Chris Laviano



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