The Road Ahead: First-Time Starters

Camp season is over at Rutgers, and with summer workouts well underway, the next step is Big Ten Media Day and training camp. The Big Ten membership date is past, and it is time to look ahead to year one. Today, we look at five first-time starters with big expectations.

Roster turnover is a natural part of college football. Rutgers, like everyone else, has new starters with big expectations in 2014. Rutgers is a long way away from setting its depth chart for kickoff against Washington State. Training camp surprises and injuries will play a key role in defining new starters.

Five players stand out as new impact starters coming out of the spring. First-year starters like Paul James and Leonte Carroo stole the show for Rutgers in 2013. Who’s next?

5. Punter Joe Roth -- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood decided against recruiting a scholarship kicker or punter with the thought that Roth is ready to replace Nick Marsh on Saturdays. Roth is at his third school in four years, and put in a solid spring after backing up Marsh in 2013. Rutgers needs to win field position battles against a brutal 2014 schedule, and Roth is a big part of that over the next two years.

4. Safety Johnathan Aiken -- Either as the starting free safety or a key reserve, Aiken’s senior season is by far his most important on the Banks. Seniors playing their best football is a key for success, and Aiken is needed in a thin secondary. Aiken started three times late in his junior season, and held down a first-team safety spot during all of spring camp. Aiken has 25 tackles and a sack in 21 career games. The numbers, and snaps, will increase significantly as a senior.

3. Outside linebacker Quentin Gause -- It may not seem like it to Rutgers fans, but Gause is going into his first season as a starter. He deserved to be, and played like, a starter for much of his sophomore season. Gause has improvements to make in coverage. He remains inexperienced, but he has two solid starters helping him out in Kevin Snyder and Steve Longa. If Gause can semi-consistently mimic his 2013 Arkansas performance, he is in for a big season.

2. CB/S Delon Stephenson -- Stephenson projects to either start at cornerback or battle Aiken for the starting free safety job. Wherever he ends up, look for a huge role in a secondary desperate for playmakers. Stephenson earned one start as a true freshman. As a sophomore, he’ll do a lot more. Rutgers lost Ian Thomas before the start of summer, which makes Stephenson’s development even more important at cornerback. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder has all-conference potential in the secondary but still needs seasoning.

1. Wide receiver Janarion Grant -- It is time to put Grant on the line of scrimmage and enjoy the results. Carroo spent a developmental year on special teams that resulted in nine touchdowns in his first year as a starter. Grant was the well-deserved winner of most improved offensive player this spring. He was electric on special teams from the first college touch of his career, and should be a weapon for new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen. Grant may not hear himself announced as a starter with names like Andre Patton and Ruhann Peele in the mix, but he will see a starter’s workload at receiver barring injury and brings a level of athleticism that no one else has at the position.

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