Commentary: Big Changes at Cornerback

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers received abrupt and unwelcome news at the start of the week when cornerback Ian Thomas quit the team to pursue a baseball career. With Thomas gone and Lew Toler out for the season with injury, Rutgers has plenty of questions to answer with 11 days until Houston comes to town for Homecoming.

The bye week will not be a quiet one at Rutgers with the decision of red-shirt freshman cornerback Ian Thomas to quit the team and pursue a baseball career. Rutgers already lost five defensive backs to the NFL in the offseason and is down two more with Thomas gone and Lew Toler out for the year with an injury.

Every program loses players early, often in season, but losing Thomas with such bad timing makes a tough position even worse for head coach Kyle Flood. For a secondary already experiencing struggles, losing a the top active corner on the roster only makes things murkier for the second half of the season.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity that this provides for the freshmen," Flood said after announcing Thomas' decision. "I think we've got a couple of guys over there in Nadir and Anthony, who have really shown flashes of doing a really nice job for us."

Excited may not be the best word for the current situation. Anxious, uneasy and tense all come to mind. But Flood has the best approach possible when dealing with this situation.

Don't worry about what is already done, especially when it is out of your control. Losing Thomas hurts, a lot, but the bottom line is that Rutgers plays Houston in 11 days.

It may be a short deck, but Rutgers has to get ready to play and that means preparing the next men up.

With regard to Thomas, the decision to quit football happens all of the time, but rarely mid-season after starting half of its team's games. For a guy that was reluctantly physical dating back to his 7-on-7 days, the physical style of Rutgers cornerbacks was not for him.

That in no way excuses Thomas for essentially quitting on his team, however. Thomas could have made the same decision to leave at the end of the season or done things in a way that did not leave his team handicapped. Seeing a fellow cornerback break his arm Thursday did not help, but the right move would be to leave at the end of the year.

Rutgers (4-2, 1-1) will not dwell on the loss, and must do everything possible to prepare its remaining options for an undefeated Houston on Homecoming.

Cornerback Options

Gareef Glashen -- Suddenly Glashen is the closest thing Rutgers has to an experienced cornerback. A fourth-year player, Glashen returns from a two-week personal absence as the elder statesman at cornerback. With nothing but extreme youth around him, Glashen needs the lights to come on fast.

Nadir Barnwell -- Barnwell has elite hips and solid speed but remains very young. Barnwell's weaknesses went on display against Louisville and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater already but he will start the rest of the season barring injury. Barnwell is off to a better start as a freshman than Logan Ryan or Devin McCourty but has a weaker supporting cast around him.

Anthony Cioffi -- The fourth quarter against Louisville was solid but is not a large enough sample size to show that the group one freshman is ready for a full 60 minutes. Cioffi is athletic and can hit, but needs to get bigger before he reaches his potential.

Delon Stephenson -- Cornerback did not work well for him in the spring, but he has no choice but to move back from safety and play next week. Stephenson, along with his role on special teams, likely fills into the role previously played by Cioffi. Stephenson can cover in the slot and has always been a candidate for early playing time. A spring semester at Rutgers is huge in this situation.

Jevon Tyree -- Tyree is going to be an emergency corner option but his value to the program skyrocketed after Thomas' departure and Toler's injury. Tyree is inconsistent in coverage but has solid ball skills. He made strides in bowl practices this season, and works as hard as anyone.

Tejay Johnson -- Johnson needs to stay at safety because he brings more value there, but he has cornerback experience and can use it if necessary.


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