The cornerback position is on the hot seat for improvement after struggling through the use of five freshmen last season. Of those five, three are now established sophomores looking to win starting jobs alongside Gareef Glashen – the lone senior at the position – and a handful of hungry true freshmen.
The faces, sans Ian Thomas, remain the same from last season. Thomas left the team for the second time in less than a year, and it is up to the remaining guys to grow as more experienced defensive backs. Glashen has the most experience in the program by a long shot, but his in-game reps are even with sophomores Anthony Cioffi, Nadir Barnwell and Delon Stephenson. Stephenson moved back to corner in spring because of injuries, but could still end up at free safety in a position battle with Johnathan Aiken.
Barnwell and Cioffi experienced the thrills and let-downs of playing as a true freshman. Cioffi replaced Barnwell against Louisville in a breakout performance, but both are expected to battle it out and see significant action as sophomores.
Both cornerback spots should be looked at as wide open in training camp. Glashen, Cioffi, Stephenson and Barnwell will likely start off as the four names on the depth chart. Look for true freshmen Kam Lott and Dre Boggs to get chances to make the two-deep as well. Lott impressed in spring where he worked on the second team because of injuries. His head start puts him in line for a chance to play early. The same goes for Boggs, who enrolled three weeks early for summer workouts. Boggs has a year of post-grad experience after a solid career at Coatesville (Pa.). The loss of Thomas and addition of Andrew Turzilli at wide receiver allows coach Kyle Flood to keep Boggs at cornerback.
Boggs and Lott have bright futures at cornerback whether or not they play as true freshmen. Flood put a focus on recruiting cornerbacks in his 2014 class. He hit Florida hard, and the result is Lott, Isaiah Wharton and Darian Dailey. Wharton and Dailey bring different abilities to cornerback and round out a very young group heading into 2014. Look for Wharton and Dailey to focus on development in training camp. Both, however, will be given a chance to win playing time this season.
There is no sugarcoating it. Cornerback is a concern, especially after losing Thomas and Bryant Gross-Armiento in the offseason. One year of American experience is huge for the top four corners on the roster, but it will take an even stronger training camp to be ready for passing teams like Washington State, Penn State, Ohio State and Indiana. It will be up to new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi to put his cornerbacks in the right position to make plays. At the same time, Rutgers cannot ask too much of them because it is a young group.