Moving Forward: Free Safety Breakdown

A position change and the rise of a preferred walk-on make free safety an intriguing position for Rutgers in the upcoming training camp. Scout looks deeper at the position, where Delon Stephenson, Anthony Cioffi and Andre Hunt could all contribute to the position in 2015.

The Competition -- Business picked up at free safety after a spring position change for Anthony Cioffi, and could become a hot position battle through training camp. Between Cioffi’s starting experience as a cornerback, Delon Stephenson’s return as a starting safety and the impressive 2014 rise of Andre Hunt, Rutgers has depth.

Stephenson likely begins training camp as the starter, but there are plenty of opportunities. If Cioffi makes more plays like he did in the spring game, the junior from Springfield, N.J., could easily step into Johnathan Aiken’s vacated role in the defense.

Storyline Central -- Depth is a good thing, and Rutgers finally has some at free safety. Just as valuable as depth, Rutgers has versatility in its free safeties. Joe Rossi’s defense works safeties into multiple sub-packages as nickel and dime backs. Cioffi and Stephenson have plenty of cornerback experience to work closer to the line of scrimmage on passing downs. Hunt, who came into his own at safety after a high school career at running back, added strong safety ability to his offseason repertoire.

Prospect Development -- Cioffi has about seven practices worth of experience at safety and Hunt goes into his second season on the two-deep. Both third-year players need seasoning at the position and, with Stephenson as a proven commodity, deserve plenty of work in upcoming scrimmages.

Rutgers has an intriguing preferred walk-on in Talib Abdur-Ra-oof. He flashed during his first training camp before injuries cut short his opportunities. Three-star Paramus (N.J.) Catholic prospect Najee Clayton could be anything from a free safety to a linebacker based on development, but there is no rush to get him on the field.

Preseason Grade -- B+ -- Rutgers has three capable starters, and needs something extra out of all three if the defense wants to perform better against passing games like Ohio State, Michigan State and Washington State. What Rutgers needs now is for one player to step up with impact plays. The Rutgers defense is at its best when someone like Courtney Greene or Duron Harmon strikes fear into quarterbacks while he roams the defensive secondary.


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