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Rutgers Shuffles OL To Feature Young Talent

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New offensive coordinator Ron Prince has to choose between promise and inexperience or veterans without as much upside on the offensive line. Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images.
New offensive coordinator Ron Prince has to choose between promise and inexperience or veterans without as much upside on the offensive line. Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images.

Rutgers lost only one offensive lineman from last year in graduated right tackle RJ Dill, but the Scarlet Knights could still have a new-look line thanks to a couple of talented youngsters. Redshirt junior Betim Bujari returns at center, but things have shuffled on both sides of him.

Redshirt sophomore Keith Lumpkin and redshirt freshman Chris Muller have forced themselves into the starting lineup this spring with strong showings, writes Tom Luicci of The Star-Ledger. Their development is exciting for the offense, but it has also pushed redshirt seniors Antwan Lowery and Andre Civil to the bench, at least for the moment.

Lowery started at left guard last year, but during spring practice, which ended Saturday with the annual Scarlet-White spring game, Lumpkin seized the left tackle spot, pushing junior Kaleb Johnson to left guard and Lowery to the sideline. Johnson started at left tackle in 2012, but the emergence of Lumpkin, who was serving as a backup right tackle, forced the upperclassmen to shift spots.

Entering this spring, Civil, who started at right guard last season, slid to right tackle to replace the departed Dill. Redshirt junior Taj Alexander took Civil's place at right guard. That all changed thanks to Muller, though, who entered the lineup at right guard. Instead of Alexander getting left out, he bumped the veteran Civil out of the right tackle spot.

What does that mean for the Scarlet Knights' offense and new coordinator Ron Prince? Lumpkin and Muller offer plenty of promise, with the potential to anchor the line for the next few years. But, while they are talented, their inexperience could hurt Rutgers this season; a new starting halfback will replace the departed Jawan Jamison, and quarterback Gary Nova is continuing to develop. It is only spring, so Lowery and Civil have time to win back their jobs. If nothing else, the competition in August should be fierce.

Rutgers' 2014 offense would benefit from having Lumpkin and Miller start immediately, but the 2013 offense might be better off with the fifth-year veterans Lowery and Civil up front. Balancing the needs of the present with those of the future will be challenging for Prince and head coach Kyle Flood.

Flood has acknowledged that "this is a performance business." Established starter or not, the best man must play.