Rutgers could very well see new starters at all four positions in the defensive secondary by the time the season opener kicks off in Piscataway.
An offseason of changes with everything from graduation to arrest to academic ineligibility, the defensive secondary remains in a state of flux for head coach Kyle Flood.
Change, however, does not necessarily represent problems and the fourth-year head coach spoke confidently about what he has heading into training camp.
“I’m comfortable with who’s there, but it’s the summer so it’s easy to be comfortable,” Flood said. “I’ve got to see those guys go out and perform in training camp and get ready. We do have some teams on the schedule that are going to spread us out. We’re going to have some games where we’re only playing nickel.”
All four positions have unsettled battles.
Junior Delon Stephenson faces a challenge at free safety from converted cornerback Anthony Cioffi, and both can expect major roles in 2015. The strong safety battle between high school teammates Davod Jacobs and Kiy Hester wages forward as well.
“I like what we have because they’re all guys that have the right mindset,” said defensive tackle and team captain Darius Hamilton. “These guys are locked in, man, and I think you’ll like what you see there.”
Cornerback is wide open after Darian Dailey’s dismissal and Nadir Barnwell’s academic concerns. Flood bolstered the position in the offseason when he moved receiver Ruhann Peele to a fulltime cornerback role.
Peele, who missed 2014 for injury and disciplinary reasons, embraced the move and worked hard with coaches during summer sessions.
“It’s really helped us,” Flood said on film with Peele. “There’s no doubt. Coach [Darrell] Wilson has done a good job of working with him this summer. I think that’s going to help him. He’ll certainly look a lot better on day one than he would if the old rules were still in place.”
“They’ve all made improvements,” said top receiver Leonte Carroo. “They’re all improving every day. They’re definitely tougher as a group than they were in the spring. We have some talented young guys like Dre and [Blessuan Austin] that are going to step up for us.”