Big Ten Bound: Defensive Secondary

Rutgers football ended 2013 with the disappointment of a bowl loss at Yankee Stadium and a losing record, but has every reason to be excited for 2014. Arguably the national champion of conference realignment, the Scarlet Knights are set to join the Big Ten, and ScarletReport.com is here to look ahead position by position.

Today ScarletReport.com looks in-depth at the defensive backfield. On paper, this was the worst passing defense in the history of Rutgers football. The Scarlet Knights lost five defensive backs to the NFL, along with its defensive coordinator. The result was not pretty, but Rutgers has plenty of reasons for excitement at the position going into the offseason, and then the Big Ten.

In 2013

What Went Right -- The secondary needed a major reboot with NFL losses, and coach Kyle Flood did a good job of finding bodies on a depleted roster. Flood and the defensive staff did everything they could to scrape a secondary together, and found some nice production in position changes.

Before quitting the team, Ian Thomas' move to cornerback showed promise after a position change. Red-shirt freshman Ruhann Peele shined bright during a brief stint as a two-way player. Rutgers recruited the position well, both with Lew Toler and freshmen, with the idea that it needed a major influx of talent for training camp. The Rutgers staff has an eye for young talent at the position, which is a must.

What Went Wrong -- The new backfield, filled with position changes and freshmen, gave up 4,056 passing yards in 13 games (312 yards per game). The secondary added just six picks, down from 14 in 2012 from members of the defensive backfield.

Rutgers gave Fresno State's Derek Carr and SMU's Garrett Gilbert highlight games for NFL scouts, and did not fare much better against future first-round picks Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles. The worst of the production, however, came in making unproven quarterbacks look dynamic. Houston freshman John O'Korn and Connecticut's Casey Cochran also came out looking like All-Americans.

The struggles came down to defensive scheme and youth. Rutgers found itself with multiple mis-matches because of a lack of depth at cornerback. The inexperience at the position, starting four different freshmen, led to soft zones and large cushions at the line of scrimmage. Opponents converted 42 percent of third downs in 2013.

Heading to the Big Ten

Reason for Excitement -- Youth. Making a bowl game was huge in the development of names like Anthony Cioffi, Nadir Barnwell and Delon Stephenson. Rutgers loses no major contributors from its secondary, and has some interesting prospects coming in to play at the position. The 2014 defensive secondary will still be very young in age, but not in experience. The Scarlet Knights return seven players with starting experience at corner or safety.

The change in defensive coordinator will be another reason for excitement. The search, still ongoing, will bring someone with experience to the table, and someone that will come ready to match up against Big Ten offenses.

When it comes to guys on the roster, Bryant Gross-Armiento was arguably the best freshman corner of camp before a season-ending injury. He has a major chance this spring.

Cause for Concern -- The cause for concern is obvious – Rutgers gave up a ton of yardage and points in 2013 and goes into 2014 with the same personnel. Rutgers does not have a Logan Ryan or Devin McCourty type defensive back that locks down his portion of the field, and returning safeties Lorenzo Waters and Johnathan Aiken struggled in coverage this season. Safety depth is expected to improve with position changes.

Rutgers adds cornerback Kam Lott as an early enrollee, but the majority of its new faces will not arrive until training camp. Youngsters Davon Jacobs and T.J. Taylor appear destined for futures at linebacker moving forward.

New Year's Resolution -- The next defensive coordinator has to have enough bodies prepared to face spread defenses. The Big Ten has power styles that Rutgers would have matched up well against this season, but every team in college football now sees a blueprint to torch the Rutgers defense. The Scarlet Knights have to put more defensive backs on the field, and rely less on linebackers and defensive ends underneath.


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