(Part 2/3) Will The 2016 Recruiting Class Of Freshmen/Transfers Shake Up The Rutgers Football Secondary?
Welcome to part two.
Last week, we went position-by-position on the Rutgers football team’s offense and examined the depth chart and how any of the incoming freshman could push for playing time this season.
Now, in the second part of a three-part series, we take a look at the defensive side of the ball. More than half of their 2016 class featured signees that will help the unit who will look to get back to being a nasty, hard-nosed football team with speed.
Rutgers has had a revolving door at corner back the past few years and the production just wasn’t there as far as pass defense goes as a whole for the defense. Improving the pass defense as well as replacing all three starting linebackers from a year ago are the two of the major focal points in 2016. New head coach Chris Ash, who brings a defensive pedigree and expertise with defensive backs, will look to improve a young secondary group.
DL: This will be easy. Ash has said he was most pleased with his defensive line, and the position has multiple senior leaders that have fought the battle and played in the Big Ten. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton returns after an injury plagued year and particpated in 80 percent of spring practice. The other starters include senior defensive ends Jullian Pinnix-Odrick and Quanzel Lambert, and redshirt junior nose tackle Sebastian Joseph, who beat out Kevin Wilkins. Depth behind the quartet is more of a question, and the biggest one is Kemoko Turay’s health. If the redshirt junior can get back to what he was in 2014, Turay could be a force.
Darnell Davis, Myles Nash, Jimmy Hogan, Ron’Dell Carter, Jon Bateky, Eric Wiafe, and others make up the depth along the line already on the team.
Rutgers picked up only one high school DL recruit in Julius Turner, a two-star 6-2, 270-pound tackle from Mississippi. Turner figures to redshirt. But, in addition to Turner, the Scarlet Knights landed a graduate transfer from Boston College in Malachi Moore. Moore hails from Pope John XXIII Regional High School and will bring experience all along the line. Moore’s career hasn’t panned out the way he hoped, dealing with blood clots in his leg in 2013, but played 23 games his final two seasons for the Eagles and comes home to play for his home state.
LB’s: Ash and defensive coordinator Jay Niemann have called the linebacker position “a mess” the staff is tasked to replace all three starting linebackers from last season as mentioned above. Quentin Gause (Philadelphia Eagles), Steve Longa (Seattle Seahawks), and Kaiwan Lewis have moved on, and now Rutgers looks to start three sophomores. Najee Clayton moved to strong side linebacker and thrived during the spring, Deonte Roberts moved to middle linebacker from weak side and is the favorite to start, and unlikely candidate Trevor Morris is ahead to start at the weak side. Behind them, Greg Jones, Isaiah Johnson, TJ Taylor, and Brandon Russell look to provide depth.
Ash, and even former head coach Kyle Flood knew they would need reinforcements after the season and signed a slew of linebackers to replenish the talent lost. The 2016 class featured five linebackers, including three early-enrollees who joined the program in January (Elorm Lumor, Jonathan Pollock, and Solomon Manning). Tyreek Williams and Rashawn Battle join the fold this summer. Lumor has since been moved to the defensive line, but if you had to ask me, I think Battle (6-3, 220) is more ready than the others, although Pollock and Manning went through spring practice and Battle did not.
CB: As mentioned before, Rutgers has struggled in pass defense. While that falls on the players, the schemes and coaches were sub-par as well, as the coaches failed to put the players in the best position to win, usually settling in a zone defense. Last September, the team saw the likes of Delon Stephenson, Dre Boggs, Nadir Barnwell, Ruhaan Peele among the players suspended and dismissed from the team due to arrests and charges for crimes. That left the cupboard bare and true freshman Blessuan Austin and redshirt freshman Isaiah Wharton were thrown into the fire. Behind them were freshman Jarius Adams and Ronnie James. The unit struggled, but the arrivals of grad transfer Ross Taylor-Douglass from Michigan (who has two years to play two), JUCO Kobe Marfo, along with three-star freshman Damon Hayes will help. And who knows, maybe Austin and Wharton won’t even start this season.
Redshirt junior Sandy Anya and senior Zane Campbell played decently well this spring as both received more playing time due to reduced available bodies.
Safety: The safeties in my opinion will be fine this season. Senior Anthony Cioffi is (still) here and will man the strong safety spot, while redshirt sophomores Saquan Hampton and Kiy Hester are in a close race for the starting spot at free safety opposite Cioffi. All three will place extensively this season along with redshirt senior Andre Hunt. Davon Jacobs recently transferred out of the program, and James was moved from corner to safety.
Three-star athlete K.J. Gray looks to be a guy who could either be a WR for Rutgers or a safety, but projects to get his first crack at safety. Gray could get time on special teams this season or redshirt.
Will the secondary improve? How concerned are you about the linebackers? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us @DoubleGSports and @ChrisWasky.
Check out the offense edition HERE.
** In addition, DoubleGSports will be on hand at the Tri-State Showcase Satellite Camp at FDU on Wednesday.**
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