Fresh Start: Five Questions

Rutgers football takes another step toward the Big Ten next week when Tuesday signals the start of spring practice in Piscataway. With 15 practices to prepare for training camp, looks at the five biggest questions to be answered in April.

5. How Does Ian Thomas Bounce Back -- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood welcomed back the rising sophomore cornerback after seeing him quit midway through last season. Thomas needs to earn back both his role as a co-starter and trust from his teammates after an untimely departure. Thomas was a start of spring at this time last year, and now finds himself needing to make up significant ground in the defensive secondary.

4. Position Changes? -- As recently as two weeks ago, Flood said not to expect anything crazy here. Look for the rising sophomore defensive backs to work at safety and cornerback. Some could stick as safeties, where Rutgers needs to repair depth after losing Jeremy Deering and moving Tejay Johnson. The last week of spring is often a time for trial position changes. Sometimes those changes hit home runs, as seen by Mohamed Sanu's move to receiver his first camp.

3. Will Rossi Improve the Defense? -- To start, the defense can't get much worse than it was at times last season. Flood promoted Joe Rossi to defensive coordinator after firing Dave Cohen and executing a seven-week search for a replacement.

The biggest issues last season came in the defensive secondary. Yes, some credit goes soon-to-be NFL draft picks, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr, but the 2013 secondary was responsible for some of the ugliest defensive numbers in school history.

Rossi told reporters not to expect any drastic scheme changes. Extra experience for a freshman-heavy secondary will be big, as is the addition of Bob Fraser, who helped build a similar defense alongside Greg Schiano.

2. Can Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples Seize Opportunities? -- Paul James is proven, and injury prone, so expect a limited role in spring camp. Expect a limited (at best) role for senior Savon Huggins, who has his arm in a sling following offseason surgery. Robert Martin and Josh Hicks are not at Rutgers yet, which leaves Peoples and Goodwin as the only scholarship guys at the position.

The first spring at Rutgers is crucial for Goodwin. As a true freshman, he showcased electric potential. Now getting bigger and learning to block at the college level become a focus. Peoples could not seize his opportunity last training camp, and needs to show a stronger grasp of the playbook and more consistency.

1. How Will the Quarterbacks Battle? -- Most positions are up for grabs in the spring, but very few battles are actually won until training camp. Flood needs to make the right call here, and will take as much time as possible. Naming a starting quarterback should be on hold until August and the real question in April – how do Flood and offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen structure work for the quarterbacks?

Will every quarterback get an even shake? Does Flood structure plays for Gary Nova and Chris Laviano to battle it out? How much work does Phillip Nelson get given that he is unavailable this fall?

Nova enters the spring as a known commodity, both to the coaches and fans. He excelled last spring and much of training camp before regressing midway through his junior season. Outside of the team and media members allowed into practice, Laviano is an unknown. Everything out of winter workouts and bowl practices has him as the biggest contender to unseat Nova.

Mike Bimonte and Blake Rankin are underdogs in the quarterback contest, but both will need work in the spring. Bimonte came close to the field multiple times last year, and made strides under Ron Prince's direction. He and Rankin both have chances for fresh starts under Friedgen in the spring.

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