Spring Football Camp Review - Defense

This article is the first of a two-part review of the Rutgers football team as it finished spring camp. This review is intended as a companion piece to my spring preview series. I will review developments in camp, revisit issues raised in my previews, and present my vision of the two-deep roster. Since I previewed the defense first, I will similarly review it first.


This article is the first of a two-part review of the Rutgers football team as it finished spring camp.  This review is intended as a companion piece to my spring preview series.  I will review developments in camp, revisit issues raised in my previews, and present my vision of the two-deep roster.  Since I previewed the defense first, I will similarly review it first.  The view of spring ball from my vantage point 2,500 miles away was not a good one so I've had to base my "observations" and conclusions upon newspaper articles, message board reports, and email correspondence.  The original text from the preview is presented in bold italics. 

Although the defense was improved last season, it was still substandard.  Opponents moved the ball on and scored against the Rutgers defense too easily and the defense was still notable for its lack of playmaking ability.  Maturation of young players will be the catalyst for continued improvement of the defense.  However, that maturation cannot be measured by the performance of the defense in spring camp against an offense that arguably was the worst in Division IA last season.  While strong performances against a weak offense will not necessarily be an indicator of improvement, poor performances will be a bad sign.  A very bad sign.  With so many young players maturing and gaining experience, the defense should outplay the offense this spring.  Anything less will be very disappointing. 

As expected, the defense dominated spring camp.  The team had 15 practice sessions that included two scrimmages plus the Spring Game.  Practice was hampered by consistently inclement weather that repeatedly forced practices indoors and limited viewing opportunities for fans. 

The first scrimmage was postponed one day.  Newspaper reports from the first scrimmage were non-existent.  Reports on the Internet were similarly lacking.  With 67 plays, the scrimmage approximated nearly a full game for each unit.  Apparently, the defense struggled against an offense that was still implementing a new system.  The pass defense was more vulnerable than was the rush defense.  While the rush defense generally stymied the offense, the defense allowed a 40-yard TD run.  Nonetheless, this rushing TD was the only score allowed by the defense. 

The second scrimmage was closed to the public but was covered by the press.  With 70 plays, this scrimmage likewise approximated nearly a full game for each unit.  The defense totally manhandled the offense.  It was complete domination.  The defense pitched a shutout and had the offense practicing the can-can.  The defense allowed only 115 rushing yards on 46 carries.  The defense recorded 9 sacks for minus 51 yards in losses and an INT.  The pass rush, especially from the outside, was very effective and was directly responsible for 44% completion rate.  Nonetheless, excluding sacks, the defense yielded 166 yards on 37 carries and also yielded big pass plays for 40 and 28 yards. 

The defense also dominated the Spring Game, which was played with 12-minute quarters and a running clock that more closely approximated a half of a real game.  The Scarlet and White teams were not divided along the lines of first and second teams but rather were generally evenly stocked with starters and backups.  The combined stats for both squads more closely approximate a full game with about 75 offensive snaps.  The defenses yielded only 48 rushing yards on 36 carries.  Excluding sacks and scrambles, the defense still allowed only 1.8 yards per carry.  The defense recorded 7 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 2 INTs.  However, pass coverage was shaky as the White defense yielded 150 passing yards, including 5 gains of at least 15 yards. 


  • Who will assume Gary Brackett's leadership role?  Raheem Orr is the obvious candidate to provide leadership in Brackett's absence.  Orr was a terror from his DE position during spring camp but OT is the weakest position on the football team.  Orr led the defense with 8 tackles in the second scrimmage.  Orr had 2 tackles and a sack for the Scarlet team in the Spring Game.  Orr's ongoing assimilation of the leadership mantle will be of continuing interest in summer camp. 


  • Speed at LB was a major handicap last season.  Gary Brackett, Brian Bender, and Brian Hohmann were plodders.  The LB corps was especially vulnerable to misdirection runs, seam routes, and shallow crossing routes.  Schiano has upgraded the athleticism at LB at the cost of experience.  Pass coverage by the LBs was the defense's biggest deficiency.  In the Spring Game, the TEs combined for 94 yards on 5 receptions and the RBs added a further 20 yards on 2 receptions. 


  • How does the open-field tackling look?  Especially by the CBs?  Is the first defender making the tackle?  Without first-hand observations, the tackling cannot be judged fairly.  However, reports from emerged from spring camp on the Internet message boards indicated that the tackling of CBs Nate Jones and Brandon Haw was sharp.  The CBs significantly limited the production from the WRs, both before and after the catch.  The tackling by the defense as a whole apparently was crisper.  Only 11 of 106 designed running plays gained at least 8 yards. 


  • Who will replace Gary Brackett as the starting MLB?  Sr Brian Hohmann entered spring camp as the 1st team MLB.  By the second scrimmage, So Will Gilkison had displaced Hohmann.  Gilkison represents an upgrade in athleticism at MLB.  However, Brackett was the most experienced LB and Hohmann is the most experienced returning LB.  Gilkison will have to grow up fast.  Gilkison led the White team with 5 tackles in the Spring Game – a solid effort for the equivalent of one-half. 


  • Who wins the starting DE job opposite of Raheem Orr – Alfred Peterson or Val Barnaby?  Barnaby won the job virtually by default as Peterson apparently missed some of spring camp with an undisclosed injury.  Barnaby led the defense with 8 tackles in the second scrimmage.  Peterson spent the Spring Game on the sidelines in street clothes while Barnaby only had one tackle for the White team. 


  • Will seniors Brian Bender and Brian Hohmann fend off challenges from second year players for their starting jobs?  With the switch of former backup WLB Terry Bynes to SS for spring camp, only two second-year players were in the mix at LB – Will Gilkison and William Beckford.  Spring camp opened with Bender as the 1st team WLB and Hohmann as the 1st team MLB.  Beckford quickly displaced Hohmann from the 1st team.  Beckford seized the starting WLB job.  Bender slid over to the 1st team SLB and Gilkison became the starting MLB.  If Bynes returns to WLB, Schiano should have a deep if inexperienced LB unit. 


  • Will Jarvis Johnson start at SS or FS?  The safety positions are still very much unsettled.  The only certainty is that Johnson is a lock to start at safety.  Undersized Bryan Durango won the starting SS job.  The positioning of the hard-hitting Johnson at FS and the fleet but small Durango at SS is illogical.  I expect Schiano to either flip-flop Johnson and Durango or to switch TB Jason Nugent to SS.  Nugent was an impact player on special teams last year and allegedly has the talent to be an outstanding safety. 


  • Will Jason Grant hold off a challenge from Terry Bynes for the starting SS job?  As with Alfred Peterson, Jason Grant was one of several players mysteriously absent from spring camp.  Grant was not listed on the depth chart at the outset of camp and apparently didn't practice.  He missed the spring game. 


  • Will Brandon Haw parry a push from Eddie Grimes for a starting CB job?  Haw opened and closed spring camp as a starting CB.  Haw earned the most-improved defender award for the offseason and spring camp.  Meanwhile, Grimes had a very quiet game on Scarlet team – no tackles but also no completions allowed.  Expect this battle to resume in summer camp and expect Grimes to emerge as the nickel back. 


  • Can Gary Gibson maintain his starting DT job?  Gibson kept his job by default.  Davon Clark is suspended indefinitely.  J'Vonne Parker missed spring camp for personal reasons.  Luis Rivas and Ron Jenerette apparently were injured.  Joe Henley isn't ready. 


  • Will Luis Rivas win the open starting DT job alongside Gibson?  Rivas apparently missed spring camp with an undisclosed injury.  With the pending arrival of JUCO DT David Harley in the summer, Rivas is expected to be the primary backup. 


  • How many second year players seize starting jobs?  At what positions?  Four second-year players finished spring camp on the 1st team – DE Val Barnaby, MLB Will Gilkison, WLB William Beckford, and SS Bryan Durango.  The defense will be young.  Especially up the middle. 


  • Where will Terry Bynes play and will he crack the starting lineup?  The switch to SS was not successful and likely will be reversed.  The absence of incumbent backup SS Jason Grant from spring camp offered Bynes a golden opportunity to cement the starting job.  Bynes couldn't.  Converted CB Bryan Durango outplayed Bynes to secure the starting SS job. 


  • Who will be the fourth safety on the two-deep?  Jason Grant apparently missed spring camp with an undisclosed injury.  His absence created a second opening on the depth chart at safety.  Schiano entered spring camp with Jarvis Johnson as his only experienced safety.  Schiano moved three players to safety this spring – former CB Dondre Asberry, former CB Bryan Durango, and former WLB Terry Bynes.  Asberry ended spring camp as the backup FS behind Johnson.  Durango beat Bynes for the starting SS job. 


  • The depth chart is crowded at CB but open at safety.  Will Schiano place Bryan Durango at FS or CB?  The depth chart suddenly became crowded at safety and thin at CB after Schiano switched both Dondre Asberry and Bryan Durango to safety.  The double switch of Asberry and Durango created an opening on the depth chart at CB that walkon So Leslie Collins filled ahead of RS Fr Bryan Wilson. 


  • Will Ishmael Medley break the two-deep in spring camp?  Kinda a Grant's Tomb-type question given the lack of scholarship LBs.  But the emergence of several walkons on the spring depth chart reaffirms that a scholarship is no guarantee of playing regardless of depth of issues.  Nonetheless, Medley beat Jeremy Campbell for the backup MLB job behind Will Gilkison.  Can Medley hold the backup job through summer camp?  


  • Will Jeremy Campbell maintain his spot on the two-deep through spring camp as younger players push for playing time?   Campbell was invisible during spring camp.  With the switch of former backup WLB Terry Bynes to SS, Campbell was the sixth scholarship LB on the roster.  Yet walkon So Sal Fama beat Campbell for a spot on the two-deep.  Bynes' possible switch back to WLB and the arrival of another heralded freshman crop of LBs likely will seal Campbell's fate.  He is not expected to contribute next season. 


Here's the two-deep, from my perspective, at the end of spring camp.  Players who missed the entire camp have been dropped from the two-deep under the theory that they will have to work their way back to health and into the rotation.  Players who missed only some portion of spring camp are included in the two-deep.  Their location is based upon their actual place in the rotation during the spring, which may have been limited by the injuries.    


1st Team

2nd Team


RS Sr Raheem Orr

RS So Piana Lukabu


RS Jr Gary Gibson

RS Fr Joe Henley


So Joe Giacobbe (walkon)



So Val Barnaby

Jr Alfred Peterson


RS Sr Brian Bender

Sr Brian Hohmann


So Will Gilkison

RS So Ishmael Medley


So William Beckford



RS Sr Brandon Haw

Jr Eddie Grimes


RS Fr Bryan Durango

So Terry Bynes


Jr Jarvis Johnson

So Dondre Asberry


Sr Nate Jones


Missing:  Jr DE Ryan Neill (injured), Sr DT Ron Jenerette (injured?), RS Jr DT J'Vonne Parker (personal reasons), Jr DT Davon Clark (suspended), So DT Luis Rivas (injured?), and Sr SS Jason Grant (injured?).


  • The interior of the DLine is a mess.  Salvageable only though the continued improvement of Gary Gibson and the arrival of JUCO David Harley.  The emergence of Piana Lukabu could allow Schiano to redshirt the injured Ryan Neill next season and further enable Schiano to move either Val Barnaby or Alfred Peterson inside to DT. 


  • Schiano lacks depth at DB.  A hypothetical switch of TB Jason Nugent to SS could push Bryan Durango to the backup FS and Dondre Asberry back to CB.  The return of Jason Grant would provide additional depth. 


  • Schiano also lacks depth at LB.  The return of Terry Bynes back to backup WLB would bolster the LB corps. 


The development and progress of the following players will be interesting to observe:

  • Goals for Raheem Orr are (1) to exhibit a consistent level of excellence throughout spring camp and (2) to demonstrate the leadership skills to inspire his teammates to match that standard of excellence.  Orr had a strong spring camp.  As did the DLine.  As did the defense.  Orr led a DLine that was stingy against the run and brought heavy pressure from the edges.  Orr must not be content with a strong spring.  Nor allow his defensive mates to get complacent.  The defense dominated a weak offense learning a new system.  But the domination was not complete.  Orr must ensure that his teammates recall the lessons of complacency that Buffanova administered last season. 


  • Nate Jones is a lock for a starting CB job.   Jones will assume the leadership mantle in the secondary from the departed Shawn Seabrooks.  Jones demonstrated yet again that he is the best player on defense during the Spring Game when he intercepted QB Ted Trump on the opening drive and returned the pick for a TD.  Jones will be competing for All-Big East honors with Miami's Jr Antrel Rolle and So Kelly Jennings, Virginia Tech's Jr DeAngelo Hall, Sr Garnell Wilds, and Jr Eric Green, Pittsburgh's Sr Shawntae Spencer, West Virginia's Sr Lance Frazier, Boston College's So Larry Lester. 


  • Brandon Haw's tackling was often sloppy last season, which is unaffordable in the loose man-to-man coverage that Schiano employs.  Keep an eye on his open-field tackling during spring camp.  Haw earned the Douglas A. Smith Second Effort Award, given to a defensive player "who through determination, dedication and hard work has shown the most improvement off-season and the spring practice."  While Haw reportedly provided strong run support during spring camp, he was victimized early in the Spring Game.  WR Shawn Tucker beat Haw for a 31-yard gain on an out-n-up that saw Haw bite hard on the pump fake.  WR Corey Barnes also beat Haw for a first-down gain on the same TD drive.  Haw recovered on the next series to intercept a pass from Barnes on a WR reverse pass trick play. 


  • How far up the depth chart will William Beckford move?  How fast?  And at what position?   Beckford seized the starting WLB job within the span of two weeks. 


  • Schiano may move Brian Hohmann to MLB to replace Gary Brackett.  Will Hohmann hold off the challenge from younger players for his starting job?  Hohmann opened spring camp as the starting MLB but was quickly relegated to the second team SLB behind Brian Bender.  Hohmann recorded an interception on the final play of the second scrimmage.  However, Hohmann may have had a rough Spring Game as he was the tackler on three TE receptions that gained 47 yards.  Was Hohmann victimized or merely covering a teammate who blew the assignment? 


  • Gary Gibson's play at DT last season was solid but not spectacular.  Gibson wasn't merely available for spring camp.  He was a playmaker in the interior.  The offense struggled to run the football.  Gibson made 5 tackles in the second scrimmage and one for the White team in the spring game (for a loss).  Gibson reportedly was one of the most improved players in spring camp. 


  • It has been said that if a player can't crack the two-deep by his third year, he likely can be written off.  This is a make or break year for Piana Lukabu.  The emergence of Val Barnaby at DE last season pushed Lukabu onto the 3rd team.  However, the severe knee injury to Ryan Neill provided Lukabu with an opportunity to make an impact this spring.  Despite suffering a high-ankle sprain, Lukabu was perhaps the biggest surprise of spring camp.  Lukabu was the dominant defensive player in the spring game, recording 10 tackles, 3 TFLs, and 2 sacks while seeing duty for both the Scarlet and White teams. 


  • While Joe Henley will battle with four other players for a slot on the two-deep, he is not expected to contribute this season.  Henley confirmed this assessment with a lackluster performance in spring camp with a plum opportunity.  With Ron Jenerette, Davon Clark, J'Vonne Parker, and Luis Rivas missing spring camp, plentiful reps were available at DT.  Yet Henley was not able to grab the open starting DT job alongside Gary Gibson.  Instead, walk-on and fellow second-year player Joe Giacobbe outperformed Henley.  Henley is probably another year or two away from contributing.  At best. 


  • The switch away from a multiple receiver offense under new OC Ver Steeg has created a glut of WRs.  As a result, Schiano switched former WR Bryan Wilson to DB prior to spring camp.  Wilson was invisible in spring camp.  Whether he was injured or simply ineffective is unknown.  Schiano moved former CBs Dondre Asberry and Bryan Durango to safety and created an opening on the depth chart at CB.  Wilson was the fourth scholarship CB on the roster.  Yet walkon So Leslie Collins received more practice repetitions at backup CB than did Wilson. 


  • Does J'Vonne Parker look like a contributor at DT?  Parker reportedly missed spring camp for "personal reasons."  Parker's reported weight ballooned from 325 pounds in the summer to 345 pounds in the spring.  I can't imagine that Schiano is terribly happy about that development.  My hunch is that Parker is in the doghouse for poor physical conditioning and his status on the team is questionable.  I'm not expecting Parker to contribute next season.  Not after sitting out an transfer year and missing spring camp. 


  • Recovering from two torn knee ligaments, including the ACL, Ryan Neill is expected to miss spring camp and may redshirt next season while fully rehabilitating.  Neill missed spring camp, as expected.  However, Schiano has indicated that Neill's rehabilitation is progressing well and that Neill may be ready by summer camp.  Given the surprise emergence of Piana Lukabu, I would redshirt Neill next season and allow him to fully recover. 


Coming Next:  Spring Football Review – Part 2.  New Offensive Coordinator inherited the worst offense in Division IA football and installed a new system.  What progress did the offense make during spring camp? 

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.

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