Greg Schiano remarked after Rutgers' first spring practice that the Scarlet Knights were still quite young in their total program reload. While that may be true, the days of true expectations are fast approaching.
It's Year 3 of the coach's second stint on campus. Sixteen projected starters — 10 on offense, six on defense — are recruits or transfers signed by Schiano and his staff. Rutgers improved from three wins in 2020 to five in 2021, backing into a surprise Gator Bowl bid on the strength of a high APR score after Texas A&M withdrew for COVID-19 reasons. Now they head into 2022 with excitement surrounding Gavin Wimsatt, the program's quarterback of the future, and a revamped offensive line, not to mention a slew of returning standouts on both sides of the ball.
There isn't pressure to win yet. But the Scarlet Knights are certainly closer to being ready to do so, and there is plenty of belief this team can achieve traditional bowl eligibility this fall if everything comes together.
Previewing Rutgers' Offense for 2022
It's a big year for offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson, as his unit regressed in 2021 (120th in total and scoring offense) after surprising during the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 campaign. The unit will go as far as the offensive line takes it. Rutgers has struggled to field a Big Ten-caliber line for years, but it believes it turned the corner this offseason. The Scarlet Knights signed seven high school linemen during the 2022 cycle and landed four high-profile transfers.
The new-look line will be tasked with protecting Wimsatt. The four-star recruit from Owensboro, Ky., arrived on campus last September after a surprise high school graduation and appeared in four games, seeing significant snaps in the bowl game. The expectation is that this will be his unit from Day 1 this fall. But Schiano and Gleeson have been remarkably committed to Noah Vedral (seven TDs, seven INTs, 59.4 percent passing) the last two seasons despite his inconsistent play. A platoon can't be ruled out.
Kyle Monangai (four rush TDs) and Aaron Young (293 yards from scrimmage, six total TDs) will be the lead backs. The diminutive Monangai fits Gleeson's scheme well and runs bigger than his size, while Young is more of a receiving threat and could line up in the slot. Schiano and staff were able to overhaul the receiving corps through the transfer portal. Taj Harris (Syracuse) and Sean Ryan (West Virginia) will join speedster Aron Cruickshank (recovering from a torn ACL) as the top targets.
Tight end remains a bit of a question mark, but the staff is high on converted quarterback Johnny Langan (18 catches for 177 yards). Langan could also see more work as a wildcat quarterback.
Previewing Rutgers' Defense for 2022
Rutgers' defense wasn't great — it ranked 10th or worse in the Big Ten in the four major team categories — but it was also integral to all three of its Power 5 wins, when the Knights held opponents to 14 points or fewer with a combined plus-9 turnover margin. The Scarlet Knights also dominated conference champion Michigan in the second half of a one-score loss at the Big House.
New defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak could benefit from the best Rutgers pass rush in years. End Aaron Lewis is set for a breakout season. Kyonte Hamilton is a budding star who can play inside or out. The Scarlet Knights also have two proven tackles in Mayan Ahanotu and Ifeanyi Maijeh.
The Knights will be very young (and thin) at linebacker after losing 96 combined starts to the NFL draft. Tyreem Powell started three games and will lead that group, which could struggle. Star freshman Moses Walker suffered a season-ending ACL tear in spring practice, and Mohamed Toure will also miss this year after a spring injury.
Secondary is an area of strength. The Scarlet Knights are deep at cornerback with returning starters Kessawn Abraham and Max Melton (three INTs), and they will get Temple transfer Christian Braswell back after he missed last season with a torn ACL. Avery Young (81 tackles) moved to safety from corner last fall; he returns along with Christian Izien and Desmond Igbinosun, who had a strong second half in 2021.
Previewing Rutgers' Specialists for 2022
Punter Adam Korsak will look to cap his sensational career by besting Rutgers' NCAA-record 45.25 net yards per kick from last season. The Ray Guy Award finalist will break in a new battery mate, as Zack Taylor replaces his older brother Billy at long snapper. Kicker Valentino Ambrosio, a former Rutgers soccer player, had some big misses early last season and entered the transfer portal in the spring. His replacement could be kickoff specialist Guy Fava, incoming recruit Jai Patel or a transfer portal addition.
The opener at Boston College will be critical, as Rutgers' most direct path to traditional bowl eligibility will always include a perfect nonconference record. Lose to the Eagles, and the Scarlet Knights will likely need an upset somewhere along the way to reach six wins. That will not be easy to do with the usual Big Ten East Division slate plus crossovers with Iowa and Minnesota.
The defense, warts and all, was good enough to win games last fall. The special teams should be strong again. It's all about the offense. If the line makes major strides, and Wimsatt can provide more of a vertical presence, Rutgers can go bowling. But there is a real chance this team takes a step back in 2022 despite improved talent and depth.