The 2012 season marks the beginning of the Kyle Flood era for Rutgers football. Flood, a seven-year veteran of coaching “On the Banks”, takes control of the Scarlet Knights after the squad completed a successful 9-4 campaign in 2011 that included four BIG EAST wins and a 27-13 victory over Iowa State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. RU’s new leader previously held the role of assistant head coach since 2008 and oversaw the offensive line since coming to Piscataway in 2005.
Rutgers fans across the nation have had fond memories rekindled of the last time an assistant coach on staff at RU was promoted to the head coaching position. Frank Burns, who replaced John Bateman in 1973, went on to become the winningest coach in school history. The hiring of Flood has Scarlet-clad fans in a frenzy to see the 2012 season begin, when the RU squad will take the field in new Nike Pro Combat uniforms.
Flood’s first squad is set to return 16 starters from last season’s bowl-winning squad – RU’s fifth-consecutive postseason victory – tied for the longest active streak in the nation.
The Rutgers offense has experience and youth to mix under new offensive coordinator Dave Brock. Junior Chas Dodd and sophomore Gary Nova split time at quarterback in 2011, combining for 3,127 passing yards and 21 touchdown passes.
RU’s quarterback play will be supplemented by a full stable of talented wide receivers. Led by seniors Mark Harrison and Tim Wright, the group features size, speed and versatility. Brandon Coleman, who stands 6-6, totaled 17 catches for 552 yards and six touchdowns last season. Coleman averaged over 30 yards per reception on the season. Quron Pratt, a junior, returns with a team-best 32 receptions for 327 yards and one score.
Rutgers’ BIG EAST-leading kick returner, Jeremy Deering, made the move to receiver from running back to bring his speed and agility to the group. The All-BIG EAST Second Team kickoff returner ran back 17 kicks for 530 yards (31.2) last season, including a 98-yard return to kick-start RU’s comeback in the 20-17 overtime victory against USF on Nov. 5, 2011. Also bringing top-notch speed to wide receiver is sophomore Miles Shuler. The former high school quarterback was a U.S. Army All-American game participant.
Rutgers returns two high-profile sophomore running backs from last season in Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins. Jamison rushed for 897 yards and nine touchdowns on 231 carries in his first year of action after an initial redshirt season. Huggins was the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with RU when he joined the Scarlet Knights in 2011. The true freshman rushed for 146 yards on 56 carries last season.
Bolstering the run game is sophomore fullback Michael Burton, who started three games in his first Rutgers campaign. Fellow classmate Sam Bergen emerged in the spring to back up the position, along with redshirt freshman Paul Canevari.
The tight end position returns experience from the 2011 squad in seniors D.C. Jefferson and Paul Carrezola. Jefferson started nine games for RU last season, making 12 catches for 118 yards. Carrezola found the end zone with an 11-yard scoring grab in a 38-26 victory over Ohio on Sept. 24, 2011. He finished with four catches for 35 yards in 2011.
Backing up the tight end position are senior Beau Bachety, junior Malcolm Bush and redshirt freshman Tyler Kroft. The trio showed promise during RU’s spring practice sessions, routinely making catches.
The Rutgers offensive line, a group overseen by Flood in his time as an assistant coach for the Scarlet Knights, returns five players who started at least three games in 2011. Betim Bujari, Andre Civil, Kaleb Johnson, Antwan Lowery and David Osei bring experience back into the trenches for RU’s 2012 campaign. In total, the five Scarlet Knights have made 37 career starts on the offensive line. Last season, Johnson earned recognition on the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Freshman All-America team. As a true freshman in 2011, he started 11 games for Rutgers at right tackle.
Former Maryland three-year starter R.J. Dill and sophomore Taj Alexander look to secure starting spots at right tackle and right guard, respectively. The 6-7 offensive tackle transfer with 30 career starts adds additional experience to Rutgers’ big blockers. Alexander, who moved from defensive line to offensive line last season, performed well this spring upfront for the Scarlet Knights. Rounding out the group of linemen competing for playing time are junior Matt McBride, senior Devon Watkis and a decorated group of incoming freshmen.
The attacking style taught by Brock has benefited a number of individuals in the NFL, including Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants), Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Jordy Nelson (Green Bay Packers) and Marques Colston (New Orleans Saints). While at Kansas State in 2008, Brock served as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. The Wildcats ranked 18th nationally in passing (269.6) and 19th in scoring offense (34.9).
Other fresh offensive coaching faces “On the Banks” include: Darnell Dinkins (tight ends), Rob Spence (quarterbacks), Norries Wilson (running backs) and Damian Wroblewski (offensive line).
Dinkins brings experience from the highest level of football, having played eight seasons with four different organizations in the NFL. Dinkins won a Super Bowl ring in 2009 as a member of the New Orleans Saints. He spent the 2010 season as assistant tight ends coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A 23-year collegiate coaching veteran, Spence has 16 seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator. He will apply his knowledge of the game to RU’s quarterback position. Among the schools he served as offensive coordinator include Clemson, Toledo, Louisiana Tech and Syracuse.
Wilson comes to Rutgers after spending the previous six seasons as head coach at Columbia University. He previously served as offensive coordinator at UConn for four seasons. He was one of five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach in 2004.
Wroblewski comes to Rutgers after a five-year stint at the University of Delaware in the same capacity. The Blue Hens’ offensive lines paved the way for success in his time at UD, including a 12-3 record and advancing to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game in 2010.
The Rutgers defense made big plays throughout the 2011 season, finishing tied for fifth in the nation in turnovers gained. The Scarlet Knights look ready to be after the football even more in 2012, as the team welcomes back eight starters from last season’s swarming defensive unit.
Rutgers’ defensive secondary includes senior Brandon Jones and junior All-BIG EAST Second Team selection Logan Ryan at cornerback, with senior All-BIG EAST First Team performer Duron Harmon returning at safety. The three started all 13 games in 2011 and intercepted a combined 10 passes. Harmon led the group with five picks to rank second in the BIG EAST.
The other safety spot in the RU secondary is set to be occupied by sophomore Lorenzo Waters and senior Wayne Warren. The two Scarlet Knights exited Rutgers’ spring practice with Waters in line to receive the starting nod. Waters made 10 tackles last season, while Warren totaled 28 stops, including 2.5 sacks.
Rutgers’ defense is marked by the return of senior linebacker Khaseem Greene, the 2011 BIG EAST Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Greene elected to finish his career “On the Banks” over a potential early start on an NFL career. He led the conference in tackles with 141 stops and will look to add more to his tally after missing spring practice due to injury.
Fellow senior Steve Beauharnais anchors the defense from the middle linebacker spot. He trailed only Greene in tackles, making 77 stops. His total included a team-leading 16 tackles-for-loss. Junior Jamal Merrell and sophomore Kevin Snyder head into the fall competing for the third starting linebacker position. Snyder showed his versatility in the spring by filling in for the absence of Greene. The unit also welcomes the emergence of redshirt freshman Quentin Gause and converted fullback Robert Joseph, a junior.
Rutgers’ defensive linemen offer an intriguing mixture of size and speed. Filling the middle for the Scarlet Knights is the ever-present Scott Vallone. The senior leader has started 38 games in his career, making 143 tackles. He recorded a personal-best 58 tackles last season, including 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks. Vallone is joined in the interior by junior Isaac Holmes, who notched 12 tackles while seeing action in all 13 games as a freshman in 2011. Junior Jamil Merrell, twin brother of linebacker Jamal Merrell, also figures into the mix with six starts to his name at defensive tackle. Redshirt freshmen Al Page and Marquise Wright both look to add depth to the tackle position group in their first season of action.
The Scarlet Knights’ defensive ends look to be an imposing force with experienced seniors Ka’lial Glaud and Marvin Booker and juniors Michael Larrow and Marcus Thompson leading the way. All four started at least one game last season. Larrow appeared in six games and started five for the Scarlet Knights before a leg injury ended his 2011 campaign. Glaud and Thompson received starting nods for two contests last season, while Booker started once. The foursome’s experience and playmaking ability is an exciting prospect for RU fans with 44 combined tackles and 8.5 tackles-for-loss between them last season.
Converted wide receiver Jawaun Wynn and former linebacker David Milewski, both sophomores, provide further depth to the defensive end position.
Robb Smith begins his fourth season on the Rutgers sideline and his first as defensive coordinator under Flood. The former special teams coach at RU will also have the Scarlet Knights’ highly reputed secondary under his tutelage.
Rutgers’ new defensive coaches bring experience and intensity to an already strong group of players. First-year coaches on the defensive side of the ball include: Dave Cohen (linebackers), Jim Panagos (defensive line) and Joe Rossi (special teams/defensive assistant).
Cohen, formerly the head coach of Hofstra from 2006-09, will head RU’s linebackers. Cohen most recently served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Western Michigan the past two seasons.
Panagos will coach Rutgers’ defensive line, coming off a five-year stint as defensive line coach at Central Florida. The Knights appeared in three bowl games during his time there.
Serving as a special teams and defensive assistant coach will be Rossi, who last served as defensive coordinator at Maine since 2009. In 2011, the Black Bears ranked 26th nationally in sacks, 31st in pass defense and 25th in pass efficiency defense.
Rutgers seeks to replace four-year starting kicker San San Te and has a freshman in contention to take the spot. Kyle Federico, an early enrollee who participated in spring practice, holds the top spot on RU’s post-spring depth chart after a solid debut for the Scarlet Knights. Sophomore Nick DeLouisa is set to provide depth behind Federico. Senior Justin Doerner resumes his punting duties for Rutgers after earning All-BIG EAST Second-Team honors in 2011. He ranked fourth in the conference with a 40.3 yards per punt average. Solidifying the group is two-year starting snapper Robert Jones. The junior has appeared in 25-straight games for the Scarlet Knights.