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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pro Day

Ray Rice sauntered around the practice bubble yesterday next door to Rutgers Stadium on his last day as The Man. 
There were 12 members of the 2007 Scarlet Knights there, taking part in Rutgers' annual pro day, and 30 scouts from 20 NFL teams there to watch them. 
No one was feeling better about his situation than Rice, who skipped the 40 because the 4.2 he ran at the NFL combine was plenty good. 
Rice will likely be a second-round pick in next month's NFL draft. Next fall, he'll be playing on Sundays, likely as someone's No. 2 running back, and as a kick returner and blocker on special teams. 
Yesterday, though, he was a Scarlet Knight, and for what might be the last time for a while, he was the best player on the field. 
Ray said he was pleased with his performance at the combine and especially pleased with his showing in the vertical jump yesterday, when he reached 39 inches -- a seven-inch increase from his number at the combine. 
Think about how high seven inches is, and think about the same guy reaching seven inches higher on one jump than on another. Pretty incredible stuff. 
So, Ray, what happened that created the disparity in the numbers? 
"At the combine, what they do is they sit you for a little bit longer," he said. "(Yesterday) I went from warming up, I saw the guys at the vertical and I said I'm going to take a shot at it. Then the adrenaline and everything else kicked in."
Ray also said he was happy with the way he demonstrated his pass-catching ability. 
"That's the biggest aspect of my game besides pass protection that they haven't seen," he said. "They needed to see Ray Rice the pass-catcher and they needed to see me do some pass protection. But I did a lot of drills and I continue to keep working. My catching is something I've been working on. Today really showed that in front of a big group of scouts, I showed them what I wanted to do." 
The only other Scarlet Knight who is all but assured of being drafted -- Jeremy Zuttah -- was also all smiles. And like Ray, Jeremy didn't take part in the 40. He opted only to do the bench press, the broad jump and positional drills. 
A few notes on the other former Knights whose statuses are less certain: 
  • Pedro Sosa was on crutches because of the knee injury that had bothered him throughout the year. He had the knee scoped last week and there isn't a tear. He said he should be back working out in five weeks. He was a shoo-in to be drafted before the injury, but now he'll have to wait and see. "I've spoken to teams, but I can't control any of that stuff," he said. "I know I can play football and I'm a talented guy, so wherever I go, I'm going to be there and play my hardest." 
  • Eric Foster tweaked his left hamstring running the 40, and didn't take part in any drills after that. "I just have to hurry up and get my numbers out there so (scouts) can evaluate me and make the right decision, and hopefully it turns out for the best." 
  • Jeremy Ito was uncharacteristically chatty after a performance with which he was quite pleased: nine field goals in 11 attempts, including one from 55 yards out that he said cleared the uprights with room to spare (he kicked before the session that was open to the media). "Actually, it was a pretty good kick," he said. "I hit that net (10 yards behind the goal posts) from 55."
  • Mike Fladell said he was disappointed that he only did 23 reps on the bench press, while he has consistently done 25 in personal workouts. But he said he thinks he has a lot to offer NFL teams, including size (320 pounds), strength, smarts, and his ability to play either guard or tackle.
I'm hoping to get back up to Piscataway for a practice sometime soon, and will post some thoughts when I make it back there. 
Meanwhile, my new Trenton Thunder blog will be up and running shortly. 

Thursday, March 13, 2008

That thing called spring

The first two days of spring football practice were this week at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have a long break for spring break and return to the field later in the month. I was at Rutgers Stadium Tuesday and wrote this story for the Trentonian about the tough task the Knights have on the offensive line, where they need to replace departed starters Jeremy Zutah, Pedro Sosa and Mike Fladell.
Last week I posted a few questions to ponder on the eve of spring practice. The questions don't yet have answers and won't until August, but after watching the Knights practice and talking to Greg Schiano afterward, I have a little more idea of where things might be going. 
A few thoughts and observations: 
  • It's WAY too early to make any serious predictions about who will be in the starting lineup on Aug. 30 against Howard, but as I wrote in my story, the first-team offensive line right now has Anthony Davis at left tackle, Kevin Haslam at left guard, Ryan Blaszczyk at center, Caleb Ruch at right guard and Mike Gilmartin at right tackle. 
  • Schiano said that despite Damaso Munoz still recovering from surgery, he thinks linebacker is one of the Knights' deepest positions this spring after being one of their thinnest last year. 
  • Schiano said no one is going to win the starting tailback job in spring practice, but it's possible someone could play his way out of contention. Schiano said he doubts that will happen.
  • Now that he's healthy again, senior Domenic Natale could make a push to be No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback. 

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Spring practice

Spring practice starts next week at Rutgers, and Greg Schiano will have a press conference Friday to preview the spring. 
I'm in Albany covering the MAAC basketball tournament (plenty of coverage at the Trentonian College Hoops Blog), but The Trentonian's Eleazer Gorenstein will be at Rutgers Stadium to cover the presser. 
With the Scarlet Knights getting back on the field, here are a few questions on my mind that I'm sure Schiano would like to have some answers to by the end of the spring: 
  • How will the offense look (even in a very informal setting) without Ray Rice? Kordell Young is still rehabbing from a season-ending knee injury he suffered during the third game of the season against Norfolk State, so he won't be able to go full throttle, but Mason Robinson will in the backfield. Jourdan Brooks will probably continue to get some reps at tailback, and Jack Corcoran and Andres Morales are in more important roles at fullback now that Ray isn't there to carry most of the load in the backfield. 
  • Is offensive lineman Art Forst good enough to start next year as a true freshman? Forst is one of three players (along with Ewing's Steve Shimko, a quarterback, and Keith Stroud, a wide receiver) who enrolled early and will practice in the spring. The Knights have three spots to fill on the offensive line, with one almost certainly going to Kevin Haslam, who began the year last year as the starting right guard before moving aside in favor of Anthony Davis. Ryan Blaszczyk is back at center and Davis is likely to move to the left tackle spot being vacated by Pedro Sosa. If Haslam slides into the starting role at right guard, that leaves a number of players, possibly including Forst, to battle for the jobs at left guard and right tackle. 
  • How will the beginning of the competition for playing time at linebacker play out? The Knights lost Brandon Renkart to graduation, and don't have anyone who's a shoo-in at middle linebacker since Damaso Munoz and Ryan D'Imperio split time there last year. The leaves Kevin Malast at weak side is the only starter who has a spot virtually locked up. The competition for the strong side spot being vacated by Renkart is likely wide open, with as many as five players conceivably getting a look.