Schiano, Cignetti look to fix Rutgers offense

Greg Schiano wanted to get Rutgers back to a pro-style offense. He didn't have to look farther than a Big East rival for the potential solution.

Former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti will be calling the plays for the Scarlet Knights in 2011, and he and Schiano talked about his hiring on a teleconference Friday.

"I don't think it's any secret that I wanted to go back in that direction," Schiano said of a pro-style attack, which Rutgers got away from the past two years. "Really, we have some tremendous playmakers and athletes, young kids, and our focus is to get those kids in position to make plays. There's a zillion different ways to do it, but philosophically we certainly see things the same way."

And that philosophy starts with being able to run the ball, then creating balance with the passing game. Rutgers' conventional running game has been mediocre at best and putrid at times in the past two seasons. The Scarlet Knights finished last in the Big East in rushing in 2010 and averaged a league-worst 2.7 yards per carry. Their most effective running plays usually came out of the Wildcat formation, a gimmick that was overused.

Cignetti said he had a Wildcat package at Pittsburgh but never needed to use it. While he said it could be a supplemental part of his offense, he added this caveat: "Fundamentally, is that who are? Absolutely not." (Pause for Rutgers fans cheering here).

In two years with the Panthers, Cignetti oversaw a strong rushing attack led by Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. Jordan Thomas showed promise as a freshman tailback for Rutgers, which will also have Joe Martinek back and other young players on the rise.

The question still lingering over the offense is the status of Tom Savage. The former star recruit fell into a backup role as a sophomore behind true freshman Chas Dodd this season and is contemplating a transfer. Cignetti's pro-style set would seem to fit Savage more than Dodd. Schiano said Savage is still in the decision stage, and that this change was not made just to keep him.

"We needed to make a programmatic decision on who our offensive coordinator and quarterback coach would be," Schiano said. "Tom's decision is going to have to be Tom's decision. Having said all that, I do think Tom's skill set does fit very well into this, as does Chas's."

Cignetti said the only indication he had gotten from Savage was that Savage wanted to be at Rutgers.

"I think this is a great opportunity for both young men," he said of the quarterbacks. "They will be trained in an NFL system that will give them the best opportunity possible to play in that league."

Of course, neither quarterback will succeed unless the offensive line improves. Rutgers gave up a nation's-worst 61 sacks this season. I asked Schiano how the change in systems would help that unit.

"[With] our guys growing up and getting little bit older, getting stronger and getting more comfortable with playing, plus the cumulative repetitions, I think they're going to be better," he said. "We're adding some new people -- we signed a junior college center who will start here when the semester begins, and I think we have some guys we moved around from the defensive line to the offensive line who are going to be more comfortable playing the position.

"So I'm encouraged. But we need to be encouraged, because we weren't very good last year at that position group."

That's just one of the many areas Cignetti has to fix on an offense that averaged a Big East-worst 20.8 points per game in 2010.