PISCATAWAY, NJ — Rutgers offensive line was like a game of musical chairs last season with the quarterback always as the one ending up with his rear end on the floor.
While the members of the starting offensive line were a mainstay throughout training camp and the first two games of this season, some tinkering started during the bye week prior to the Ohio game.The right side had a makeover. Out was redshirt sophomore right guard Antwan Lowery and redshirt senior right tackle Desmond Stapleon. In came redshirt freshman Betim Bujari at guard and ture freshman Kaleb Johnson at tackle.
Despite the fact that he served as a tackling dummy much of last season when the Scarlet Knights gave up an NCAA record 61 sacks, quarterback Chas Dodd is assured the newly revamped unit will keep him upright.
“The coaches wouldn’t put them there if they didn’t think they were the best guys to do the job at the time,” Dodd said “I feel confident who’s in right now and I feel good with the o-line.”
Still, Rutgers will be facing a blitz happy defense in Syracuse. Not to mention a Carrier Dome that’ll be a ruckus.
Sprinkle in the fact that Rutgers surrendered nine sacks when they traveled up to Syracuse two seasons ago, and all eyes will be on the offensive line. Particularly the right side.
But this won’t be the first time head coach Greg Schiano started a young lineman in the Carrier Dome.
As a sophomore in, left tackle Pedro Sosa made his first start for Rutgers in the Carrier Dome in 2004. He started the game with three straight false start penalties.
“You have to keep your poise when it gets crazy,” Schiano said. “Young guys that haven't been there…It's a hard job to prepare them to keep their poise under pressure.”
To combat the crowd, there will be a further reliance on the silent count.
It’ll be crucial that the lineman is blocking out the crowd as much as the guy in front of him. That’s not as easy for young players.
However, Johnson did show that he’s not one to get rattled easily and has the ability to stay engaged on the task at hand against Ohio.
“I was focused more on making my blocks than on anyone in the crowd,” Johnson said.
It was the Jacksonville, Fla. native’s family that was overcome with exuberance.
“My mom was very excited,” Johnson said. “Her and my brothers came. They were overwhelmed with enjoyment.”
And the 6-4 298 pounder overpowered his opponents with his brute strength.
“He’s just ridiculously strong,” fullback Joe Martinek said. “I think that’s one thing lineman have to adjust to — not only the speed and all the adjustments with the college game, but strength-wise. He’s going up against 21, 22-year-olds and he’s 18 19-years-old.”
Being a gym rat has given the teenager the ability to bowl over grown men. But that muscle won’t matter if Johnson gets rattled in his first road test. So he’ll do what he’s always done. Keep it simple.
“I try not to over think things. That’s usually when I mess up,” Johnson said. “I just take my time, take a deep breath and go through it. It’s all fun and games.”
In doing so, he could stop Rutgers game of musical chairs.