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Sunday, July 7, 2013

TOP 20: Proving it in Piscataway (No. 14)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

Less than a month remains until the start of Rutgers training camp. This top-20 countdown will run infrequently, documenting who's got the most to prove in 2013.

No. 14 — fifth-year senior guard Antwan Lowery (6-foot-4, 310 pounds)

Why Lowery's on the list: The first 2012 starter to appear on the countdown, Lowery has yet to translate his physical skill set into more than one season.

Head coach Kyle Flood will again have several training-camp decisions
to make along the offensive line. (AP Photo)
After Lowery earned First Team All-Big East honors for the first time last season, head coach Kyle Flood swapped in redshirt freshman Chris Muller late in spring practice. While it's too early to judge, the move carries weight.

Lowery spurned April's NFL Draft because he said he enjoyed playing football again. He struggled with weight and emotional issues under former head coach Greg Schiano, but Flood offered a clean slate.

The Scarlet Knights graduated only one starter on the line from last season, and a host of younger prospects could emerge within the near future. Despite the experience, Rutgers finished seventh in the Big East in 2012 in rushing and sixth in first downs.

No one is immune from roster shake-ups.

During training camp, keep an eye on: How Lowery fares as a pass blocker. 

It'll be no surprise if Rutgers' run-pass ratio upticks toward the latter in 2013. Quarterback Gary Nova says he envisions an offense predicated on quick decisions and getting the ball to playmakers — most of which are on the outside.

Lowery has been a force in the run game, but the same hasn't necessarily translated to pass protection. Still, the Knights finished tied for eight nationally a year ago with 11 sacks allowed.

Muller comes from a run-heavy high school offense, so consistent pass technique remains to be seen. Rutgers shuttles in new starting-five linemen during nearly each training camp practice, so any evaluations will have to wait until mid-August.

2013 season outlook: It's difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn't include Lowery in the lineup, but it should be noted 2012 was his only year as a full-time starter.

Working in new starters at both tackle spots will be a challenge, but Rutgers will benefit from junior Kaleb Johnson's move inside after starting two seasons along the blindside. Rutgers will be hard-pressed to duplicate its pass-protection numbers, but it's a good problem to have.

More from the countdown: No. 15 — Steve Longa

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