Rutgers QB Teel is stepping to forefront this season

Posted: August 10, 2007

Mike Teel listened to the question, gave a hearty laugh, then looked at the guy who asked it with an expression that seemed to say, "Excuse me, but did you spend last fall somewhere in solitary confinement?"

The reaction from the Rutgers quarterback was prompted by an inquiry about how aware he was of the criticism he received during much of the Scarlet Knights' remarkable 2006 season.

"Well, when you get booed off the field and you read things in the newspapers and on the Internet . . ." he said, emphatically making his point.

Think of Rutgers football and you think of Heisman Trophy contender Ray Rice, bright young coach Greg Schiano and the belief that New Jersey finally has a team it can proudly call its own.

Rarely is the quarterback of a nationally ranked team considered part of the background, but that was Teel before he finally stood up to be counted when the Scarlet Knights got into the meat of their schedule.

Teel's numbers for his first full season as Rutgers' starting quarterback include 12 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Very underwhelming. Yet he was at his best against Rutgers' most difficult opponents - Louisville, West Virginia, and Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.

After a strong finish, Teel goes into this season, which opens Aug. 30 against Buffalo, with every right to feel good about himself and with the pieces in place to add some dimensions to an offense built around Rice's powerful running game.

A 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior who led North Jersey's Don Bosco Prep to 23 consecutive wins, Teel has a full year of experience as a starter on his resume. He has a deeper and more seasoned group of receivers, including potential game-breaker Kenny Britt. He has a solid offensive line.

And he has a thick layer of skin that helped steel him against his doubters. He credits former Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms for that.

Teel knows Simms from working out with both of Simms' quarterback sons, Chris, who plays for Tampa Bay in the NFL, and Matt, a freshman at Louisville who also played at Don Bosco.

"It just so happened [Simms] called me and asked how things were going," Teel recalled. "And I said, 'You know, it's tough,' and he said he understood. When he was with the Giants in the mid-80s, I guess he wasn't playing so well for a couple years. He told me you can't worry about what other people think, and you can't worry about what other people want you to do. All you can do is be the best for your team, get them into a position to win.

"It's nice to hear from a guy of that stature and to understand that this guy was a Super Bowl MVP. So he must understand what a sophomore college quarterback is going through. It made me realize how much the position means and how you have to have thick skin to play quarterback."

Teel said that his strong finish last season gave him a needed confidence boost.

"Up to then, a lot of times I was a half-second off or we were a half-second away from executing. And to be able to put it all together just shows the ability we have in the skill positions, from the wide receivers to the guys coming out of the backfield," he said. "For me personally, it was great to finish up that way."

Last season, Rutgers ran the ball 496 times for 2,342 yards and threw the ball 312 times for 2,144 yards. Rice averaged 26 carries a game. Schiano has indicated he would like to force defenses to respect the pass more so they don't gang up on Rice.

"We'd like to spread the ball around a little bit," Schiano said. "I think if we get our passing game going it'll get some people to back off and commit some resources to stopping the pass rather than have eight guys in the box."

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743


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