PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Any time former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano was asked about his embattled offensive line, he always had a stock answer prepared.
Rutgers did not decline overnight, he would say. And Rutgers would not emerge from the decline overnight, either.
Schiano used to point to several recruiting lapses following the 2007 season -- first-round pick Anthony Davis was the lone bright spot. The season after Davis' departure was the low point, as Rutgers gave up 65 sacks in 2010 and had one of the worst lines in the nation. There was a change in scheme that contributed to the slide. Plus, Rutgers always seemed to move its players all over the line.
A move back to the preferred pro-style offense last season helped the Scarlet Knights improve, though they still struggled in the run game. Schiano continued to maintain there was a long way to go, even with the development of freshman All-American Kaleb Johnson.
Through all of this, we rarely heard from the man in charge of coaching the offensive line. The man who is now head coach at Rutgers, Kyle Flood. Schiano did not make his assistants available to the media; hence, there never was much of an opportunity to hear what Flood had to say about the struggles.
So when I visited campus last month, I asked Flood for his perspective on the decline of the offensive line, considering this was the position he had coached since 2005.
"I think that happens in programs," Flood said. "Recruiting is much more of an art than it is a science. Offensive line is the position probably where the recruiting part of it is projected more than other positions, and the game is significantly different up front. What makes you effective as a high school offensive lineman doesn't always make you effective in college. But with that being said, what we do have is some really good, young offensive linemen in our program right now. A guy like Kaleb Johnson, a guy like Betim Bujari.
"We’ve also had some success with guys who have moved over from defense. One of the things that maybe kept us from being what we wanted to be was Desmond Wynn not being healthy. Desmond Wynn was healthy finally for an entire season last year. When you lose a player like that, it’s a significant loss. But I don’t think we’re the only one who’s gone through that situation where you recruit a kid and it doesn’t work out. But when you have that, and then you have an injury situation it makes it harder for sure."
Taj Alexander, a defensive tackle who switched to offensive line last season, won the most improved offensive player award this spring. He played both guard and tackle. What really hurt Rutgers was losing time with players because of injury: Johnson missed all of spring, Bujari was out for most of it with an ankle injury, and center Matt McBride missed a few practices with an injury as well.
There really is no set offensive line headed into the offseason. Guys like Dallas Hendrikson and R.J. Dill are going to be counted on to step up. And Rutgers did just sign one of its best offensive line classes in recent history as well.
"What I’m excited about is how many young offensive linemen we have," Flood said. "The key is where do they fit and we have to leave them there and let them grow. Any time you move a guy it stunts his progress a little bit.
"I’ll know more about the line in August. Right now it’s hard to gauge. To me, the biggest factor in all that is who is going to be our starting center? Is it going to be Dallas, McBride, Betim? That one is still up in the air. I’ve got a good feeling for what I think Betim can do in there. Now we have to see how everybody else does and go from there."