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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kaleb Johnson puts Rutgers' 2013 rushing numbers in perspective

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: @Tyler_Barto

When Kaleb Johnson talks about Rutgers' rushing success through two games, he can't help but think back to 2011. 

Johnson, a true freshman then, was part of an offensive line that produced 1-, 5-, minus-7- and minus-9-yard performances, respectively. Rutgers averaged 2.78 yards per carry.

Paul James, meanwhile, has more yards in two games (301) than the Scarlet Knights nearly produced in four games (302) that season. Rutgers ranks 34th nationally in rushing yards in 2013.

"I feel like this has been as good as we have," Johnson said Monday. "I remember my freshman year, there were games when we had negative yards. We've run for over 200 yards now. I'm very excited for the season because we have a lot of things we have to clean up."

Head coach Kyle Flood was the offensive line coach in 2011. 

The difference, Johnson says, has been a larger focus on fundamentals. The line spends more time learning explanation behind its plays instead of repetition in running them. 

Paul James has nearly as many rushing yards through two games (301) as Rutgers produced through four games to begin the 2011 season (302). (AP Photo)

"I'm definitely confident," Johnson said. "Out there as a freshman, fresh out of high school, I was out there just playing football, running around and hitting people. There were times when I didn't even know what I was doing out there. ... At this point, I'm the guy that's helping the other guys out."

The Knights ran the ball effectively in each of their first two games but used different philosophies. 

They largely stretched the field Aug. 29 with a zone scheme with coordinator Ron Prince's imprints. Their 273 rushing yards Saturday against Norfolk State came with heavy gap schemes, Flood said Sunday.

Zone blocking requires linemen to extend plays horizontally by blocking designated areas instead of defenders. 

RELATED: Kaleb Johnson goes in depth on fine points of zone blocking

A gap scheme, Johnson said, is based on pin-and-pull techniques, like when a guard pulls and others block down on a defender to compensate.

MORE: How rapper Lil' Wayne spurred a new Rutgers defensive line tradition

Johnson says he pulls on nearly every other snap. He and right guard Chris Muller played in Wing-T offenses in high school, based largely around trap plays and pulling linemen.

"We still have so much to improve on," Muller said Saturday. "Every day we have to get better. We can't get complacent."

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