Spring Football Camp Review -- Defense

Before previewing the upcoming summer camp, I want to revisit spring camp. This article is the second of a two-part review of the Rutgers football team as it finished spring camp. This review is intended as a companion piece to my spring preview series. I will review developments in camp, revisit issues raised in my spring camp previews, and present my vision of the two-deep roster. The first part previewed the offense. I'll close with a look at the defense.


This article is the second of a two-part review of the Rutgers football team as it finished spring camp.  The first part reviewed the offense.  I will close with the defense.  This review is intended as a companion piece to my spring preview series.  I will review developments in camp, revisit issues raised in my spring camp previews, and present my vision of the two-deep roster. 

The view of spring ball from my vantage point 2,500 miles away was not a good one.  Non-statistical observations from only the Spring Game reflect a lack of information from the first and second scrimmages and, therefore, are not conclusive.  I did get to review a copy of the Spring Game.  I've had to base my "observations" and conclusions upon newspaper articles, message board reports, email correspondence, and my analysis of the Spring Game.  The original text from the preview is presented in bold italics. 
The defense, the strength of Head Coach Greg Schiano's first two Scarlet Knight teams, took a step backward last year.  A maturing DLine demonstrated further improvement.  A young and inexperienced linebacking corps was decimated with injuries but possessed the depth to compensate.  Previously the strength of Schiano's defense, the secondary lacked both experience and depth at safety.  This deficiency was compounded by mediocre play from the veteran CBs. 

Rutgers was ranked #52 (out of 117 Division IA teams) in passing defense (down from #37), #68 in rushing defense (up from #106), and #61 in total defense (up from #88).  The rush defense improved noticeably.  Rushing yards allowed decreased over 20% to 163 yard per game (from 207).  The rushing defense further improved its yield per carry from a generous 4.7 yards per carry to a more respectable 4.2 yards per carry.  The improved play of the front seven took pressure off the DBs to provide run support.  Despite the reduced burden, the secondary could not pull its weight.  Although the sack total increased from 15 to 27, passing yardage increased from 198 yards per game to 230 yards per game.  The defense also yielded points disproportionately worse to the yardage it yielded, ranking #80 in scoring defense (again, up from #95).  The big play was the nemesis of the defense as it yielded 20 runs and 39 passes of at least 30 yards.  Again, the secondary bore the brunt of the blame. 

Schiano's defense has transformed in three years.  A young DLine that played early has matured into the strength of the defense.  A linebacking corps that lacked speed and depth is now bristles over two deep with athletes and playmakers.  A deep and experienced secondary that was the backbone of the defense has become young and inexperienced with questionable depth.  The transformations haven't been limited to the roster, either.  LB Coach Mark D'Onofrio moved up to Virginia to take an assignment as the special teams coach.  Schiano promoted former Graduate Assistant Phil Galiano to replace D'Onofrio.  Schiano also dismissed DB Coach Scott Lakatos, a move that many anticipated after the secondary regressed last year, and hired former North Carolina State DB Coach Chris Demarest to replace Lakatos. 

The odds were stacked against the defense in spring camp.  The unit lost four departed veterans in DE Raheem Orr, SLB Brian Bender, CB Nate Jones, and CB Brandon Haw.  Six more starters missed camp with injuries – DT Gary Gibson, DT Luis Rivas, MLB DeVraun Thompson, WLB William Beckford, SLB Berkeley Hutchinson, and FS Jarvis Johnson.  Two new defensive coaches joined the staff – Demarest and Galiano.  All of this disruption occurred to the lesser unit.  Scrimmages were supposed to be an offensive mismatch.  The defense didn't get the memo. 

The first scrimmage went according to script.  The defense yielded six TDs and nearly 575 yards.  The rushing defense was soft, allowing 228 yards on 46 carries.  The pass defense was no better, allowing 346 yards and five TDs.  The only bright spot was 2 INTs.  It was a mismatch.  As advertised. 

The defense completely dominated the second scrimmage, allowing only 216 yards and two TDs.  The rushing defense was stingy, limiting the offense to only 84 yards on 30 carries.  The passing defense also redeemed itself, holding the offense to only 186 yards on a 35% completion rate but allowed two passing TDs.  Reports of the second scrimmage did not mention any INTs recorded by the defense. 

In the Spring Game, the defense, split between the Scarlet and White teams, thoroughly outplayed the split offenses.  Despite using six walk-ons in the starting lineups of the two teams – three LBs, one DT, one CB, and one FS.  The defenses held the offenses to only 17 combined points and 309 combined total yards.  The rushing defense was suspect, allowing 181 yards on 33 carries.  Big plays were the primary cause as the three runs constituted half of the rushing totals.  The pass defense compensated and completely shut down the offense, limiting the offense to 128 yards net of sacks and a 40% completion rate.  The secondary allowed two big passes – 45 and 36 yards, neither for a touchdown. 


  • The secondary will be the most critical emphasis of spring camp.  Schiano and Demarest must improve the weak link of a defense that lost its two most experienced CBs.  Whereas, in years past, comparisons of the defense against the offense were meaningless since each unit was terrible, the secondary will be tested by a deeper, more talented, and more experienced receiving corps.  How will the secondary compare?  And fare?  It is difficult to draw conclusions from the statistics of the first two scrimmages.  Without having seen the scrimmages, I don't know what coverages the secondary was playing when receiving gains were made.  Schiano tends to play his WS up nearly at LB depth in the base defense, leaving the FS as the deep centerfielder.  Schiano uses two deep safeties on obvious passing downs.  I'll use pass defense as a surrogate for secondary performance although it isn't truly indicative because the LBs have pass coverage responsibilities, too (TEs and RBs).  In three scrimmages, each the approximate equivalent of a game, the pass defense averaged 234 yards – not good.  However, after an awful first scrimmage (346 passing yards and 5 passing TDs), the pass defense rebounded with 186 and 170 passing yards, respectively, in the second scrimmage and the Spring Game. 
    Big plays were the Achilles heel of the secondary last year.  In the first scrimmage, the defense gave up passes of 34 yards to WR Cory Barnes, 33 yards to WR Tres Moses, and 30 yards to WR Willie Foster, plus three other passes of at least 19 yards.  In the second scrimmage, the defense yielded passes of 41 yards to WR Donnie Diaz and 30 yards to FB Brian Leonard.  In the Spring Game, the defense allowed passes 45 yards to TE Chris Loomis and 36 yards to Foster. 


  • The days where the performance of the DLine cannot be judged against that of the OLine, because each is so terrible, are history.  The OLine improved dramatically last season, demonstrating the ability to control the line of scrimmage.  Similarly, the DLine also improved last season and no longer offered opponents the past of least resistance.  While the DLine proved better stopping the run, its pass rush was still lacking.  The battles along the LOS should be the most heated, if not entertaining of spring camp.  In the first scrimmage, the RBs gained 228 rushing yards on 46 carries (5.0 yards per carry).  Since the running game focuses between the tackles, the DLine apparently was manhandled.  In the second scrimmage, the DLine rebounded to dominate the LOS while the defense yielded only 84 yards on 30 carries.  The DLine won the rubber match in the Spring Game.  The DLine combined for 20 tackles, 11 TFLs, 4 sacks, and 4 pass deflections.  Although the RBs gained 181 yards on 33 carries (5.5 yards per carry), half of that total occurred on three carries.  Otherwise, the offense gained only about 3 yards per carry.  Nineteen carries gained 2 yards or less and nine were TFLs.  The DTs were disruptive in the middle and the DEs wrought havoc off the edges. 


  • A rash of injuries has knocked most of the LB two-deep out of spring camp.  Schiano will use spring camp to build depth at LB as his young third team – no longer comprised of cast-offs – gets lots of practice repetitions.  While player development and potential depth chart implications can be evaluated, the absence of five LBs makes it impossible to take a broader look at the LB corps.  Schiano moved former LB Eric Foster to DE prior to spring camp.  That left only three scholarship LBs available for camp – Jr SLB Terry Bynes, So WLB Quintero Frierson, RS Fr SLB Kenny Gillespie.  In the first scrimmage, Frierson led the defense with 5 tackles and a sack.  Though I don't recall any reports about the LBs from the second scrimmage, the defense dominated the scrimmage, which implies that the LBs played well.  In the Spring Game, SLB Bynes led the White defense with 6 tackles, and a TFL.  WLB Frierson led the Scarlet defense with 4 tackles and 2 TFLs while SLB Gillespie added 2 tackles. 


  • Who will replace Raheem Orr as the dominant playmaker?  Who else is making plays behind the LOS?  With five LBs missing spring camp with injuries, this temporarily role defaulted to the DLine.  Historically pushovers, the DTs made a statement in camp despite missing two starters with injuries.  Sr David Harley, So Nate Robinson, So Rameel Meekins, and RS Sr J'Vonne Parker all showed playmaking ability – especially the heralded Robinson.   However, the playmaker clearly was RS Jr DE Piana Lukabu, who recorded 5 tackles, 2 TFLs, a sack, and a pass deflection in the Spring Game.  Jr DE Val Barnaby, RS Fr Eric Foster, and Fr DE Jamaal Westerman also made plays behind the LOS, as did Frierson. 


  • How do the CBs look against the WRs?  Are they giving up generous cushions and conceding the underneath routes?  If they tighten their coverage, are they getting beat over the top?  WR receiving yards give an indication of the effectiveness of the CBs.  In the three scrimmages, WRs accounted for only 205 receiving yards but had four catches of at least 30 yards.  Other than the big plays, the CBs apparently played well.  The CBs – including two 2nd year players (So Joe Porter and RS Fr Tre Timbers) and a walk-on – were victimized only once in the Spring Game.  They generally had good coverage deep, allowing only one deep pass completion – a 36-yard fly pattern to Willie Foster and getting beat only one other time (a deep fade to Foster incomplete out of bounds).  They committed only one pass interference penalty.  The coverage underneath was solid, too, as the CBs yielded only a 6-yard hitch to Moses.  Of the13 completions allowed, the CBs were victimized only twice. 


  • Schiano employed a Cover 2 zone underneath coverage scheme as his base package last year.  The dime defense employed a similar look with DBs playing the OLB roles.  What kind of the coverage schemes is the defense using?  What DBs make up the dime package?  Actually, the base package was a Cover 1 man-to-man underneath scheme last year, as Schiano typically moved his WS up to LB depth on the weak side.  The dime package was a Cover 2 zone underneath scheme.  Reports of the first two scrimmages did not mention describe the coverage schemes in any detail.  In the Spring Game, the Cover 1 man under scheme was predominantly used.  With split rosters, the coaching staffs lacked enough DBs to employ the dime package.  Instead, the staffs generally used a Cover 2 zone under scheme in obvious passing situations. 


  • How do the CBs and safeties look in man-to-man coverage?  The offenses attempted 14 deep passes in the Spring Game – 11 to the WRs.  The CBs were beaten only three times – Sr Eddie Grimes by So Marcus Daniels on an underthown fade, walk-on Leslie Collins by Sr Chris Baker on a post-corner route (pass interference), and Timbers by Willie Foster on a 36-yard fly route.  The CBs had good coverage underneath as the offenses three only once to WRs in the flats – Moses on a 6-yard hitch route.  The FS had deep double coverage responsibilities.  The WS was often responsible for a RB or TE underneath in the Cover 1 scheme. The WSs were targeted three times – Leonard on an 8-yard drag route (Nugent), FB Ishmael Medley on an underthrown 5-yard drag route (RS Sr Jason Grant), and So TB Justise Hairston on a deep hitch route that Nugent intercepted at the goal line. 


  • Are the DBs looking back for the football to break-up or intercept passes?  This was one of the biggest deficiencies last season.  DBs gave up passes or committed pass interference because they didn't look back for incoming passes.  In the Spring Game, the DBs showed noticeable improvement in this fundamental skill.  Apparently, it has been a point of emphasis for Demarest. 


  • Can the DLine generate an effective four-man pass rush?  While the passing statistics from the first scrimmage (346 passing yards and 5 passing TDs) were generally indicative of an ineffective pass rush – with or without blitzing, the results from the second scrimmage (35% complete for 186 passing yards) implied the QBs were harassed.  I don't know whether the apparent success of the pass rush in the second scrimmage was the result of a four-man rush or blitzing.  In the Spring Game, the DLine recorded 4 sacks and 4 pass deflections.  The pressure was applied broadly, too, as six different players made these eight plays.  The DLine brought adequate pressure to bear on the QBs with a four-man rush.  The DEs rushed hard off the edges while the DTs collapsed the pocket up the middle. 


In years past, the evolution of the depth chart was the best indicator of progress.  Since both the offense and defense were terrible, each provided a poor frame of reference from which to judge the relative performance of the other.  The displacement of non-performing veterans with younger, more talented players was a prime focus.  Not so any more.  Now that both the offense and defense have improved to a level of respectability, Schiano can focus upon building quality depth.  From this standpoint, here are the most interesting developments to observe on the depth chart:

  • Who will replace Orr as a starting DE opposite Piana Lukabu?  And who will be the backup DEs?  Barnaby would appear to be the frontrunner to replace Orr.  Barnaby was Orr's backup at left DE last season.  Schiano cited Barnaby as one of the most improved players in spring camp.  Barnaby started at left DE for the Scarlet team in the Spring Game.  He recorded two tackles – both TFLs and one of which was a sack – and one pass deflection.  Eric Foster will push Barnaby, though.  Foster recorded 4 tackles and 2 TFLs for the White team in the Spring Game.  


  • Who emerges as the starting WS opposite FS Jarvis Johnson?  And who is the backup WS?  Nugent apparently has emerged as the starter, beating RS So Bryan Durango and Grant for the job.  Nugent recorded 3 tackles, one TFL, and a game-clinching INT for the Scarlet team in the Spring Game.  Durango injured his knee during camp and saw only limited action in the spring game.  Therefore, the battle may not be fully decided until summer camp ends.  Or it could continue into next season.  Much less athletic than either Nugent or Durango, Grant is clearly the third string. 


  • Who among So Derrick Roberson, Joe Porter, and Tre Timbers emerges as the starting CB opposite Eddie Grimes?  Who emerges as the nickel CB?  Roberson may have been injured in camp because he barely played in the Spring Game.  In the Spring Game, Porter started at CB for the White team and Timbers started at CB for the Scarlet team.  Porter made two tackles – Moses on a 6-yard hitch route and TB Clarence Pittman on a 12-yard draw play on the final play.  Porter was targeted three times on passes – Chris Baker on a WR reverse pass on the opening play (incomplete), Moses on the aforementioned hitch route, and Moses on a fly route at the end of the first half (intercepted by FS Brandon Wood).  Timbers was also targeted three times on passes – beaten by Willie Foster on a deep fade route (incomplete out of bounds), WR Nkosi Remy on another deep fade (incomplete), and Foster on a 36-yard fly pattern.  Spring camp didn't settle matters.  Porter may have a slight edge over Roberson and Timbers heading into summer camp but the battle for the other starting CB job will continue during camp.  Timbers likely will start the season as the fourth CB, which will not likely be the dime back as it was last year since Schiano uses four safeties in his dime scheme. 


  • Who will seize the temporarily open starting DT jobs in place of the injured Gary Gibson and Luis Rivas?  Harley, Parker, and Robinson all played well in camp.  Harley contributed one pass deflection and generally clogged the middle for the Scarlet team in the Spring Game.  Parker recorded 7 tackles and one sack in the second scrimmage while adding a TFL in the Spring Game.  Robinson had 4 tackles, one TFL, and a pass deflection for the White team in the Spring Game.  Harley likely will displace Rivas from the starting lineup.  Parker and Robinson will push Gibson for his starting job.  With Meekins, the defense is three deep at DT. 


Here's the two-deep, from my perspective, at the end of spring camp.  Players who missed the entire camp have been dropped from the two-deep under the theory that they will have to work their way back to health and into the rotation.  Players who missed only some portion of spring camp are included in the two-deep.  Their location is based upon their actual place in the rotation during the spring, which may have been limited by the injuries. 



1st Team

2nd Team


Jr Val Barnaby

RS Fr Eric Foster


Sr David Harley

RS Sr J'Vonne Parker


So Nate Robinson

So Rameel Meekins


RS Jr Piana Lukabu

RS Jr Ryan Neill


Jr Terry Bynes

RS Fr Kenny Gillespie


Maurice Hines (walk-on)

Dominic Piegaro (walk-on)


So Quintero Frierson

Anthony Campanile(walk-on)


Sr Eddie Grimes

RS Fr Tre Timbers


Jr Jason Nugent

RS So Bryan Durango


Sr Jarvis Johnson

Jr Dondre Asberry


So Joe Porter

So Derrick Roberson


Missing:  RS Sr DT Gary Gibson (groin), Jr DT Luis Rivas (groin), Sr DE Alfred Peterson (suspended), RS Jr WLB Brad Cunningham (groin), Jr WLB William Beckford (knee), Jr MLB Will Gilkison (shoulder), Jr SLB Berkeley Hutchinson (shoulder/ankle), and So MLB DeVraun Thompson (groin).  


The competition for playing time will be intense and should push players to get even better.  The development and progress of the following players will be interesting to observe:

  • How does RS Jr DE Ryan Neill look 18 months removed from major reconstructive knee surgery?  Neill looked solid but not spectacular in the Spring Game.  He recorded only one tackle for the Scarlet team in the Spring Game.  He also forced a quick throw on a QB bootleg when he honored his backside containment responsibilities, something he learned the hard way as a true freshman and obviously has not forgotten.  Neill appears to play more effectively against the run than the pass.  He likely will be used more on likely rushing downs than on likely passing downs. 


  • How much has Nate Robinson improved over last season?  Dramatically.  Robinson dominated portions of the Spring Game.  He beat RS Fr LG Mike Fladell on an off-tackle run and dropped Pittman for an 8-yard loss in the first series.  He beat Fladell again on the next series and deflected a pass to RS Sr TE Ray Pilch.  In the second half, Robinson blew up Fladell and tackled Pittman for a 1-yard gain.  Nate made tackles on the final two plays of the game – for a 1-yard gain and downfield after a 12-yard gain.  Robinson may not start behind the more experienced Gibson and Harley.  But Nate will see plenty of action in a three deep rotation on the DLine. 


  • Will Terry Bynes assert himself as the dominant LB in the absence of five other players from the linebacking two-deep?  Bynes had a strong camp and will compete for a starting job in summer camp.  Bynes led the defense with 6 tackles and a TFL in the Spring Game.  However, Bynes did not have the best camp at LB.  Frierson led the LBs 5 tackles and a sack in the first scrimmage.  Frierson added 5 tackles and 2 TFLs in the Spring Game for the Scarlet team. Frierson will push for playing time on the two deep next year. 


  • Do J'Vonne Parker and RS Fr DE Rashawn Ricks look like contributors?  Ricks did not look like a contributor in spring camp as he apparently was passed on the depth chart.  Ricks played sparingly behind Eric Foster in the Spring Game.  Ricks was recently injured in a car accident and was hospitalized in intensive care.  He has since been released but the accident only served to reaffirm that Ricks likely will not contribute this year.  Conversely, Parker established himself as a likely contributor.  Finally out of the doghouse with Schiano, Parker was a big performer in spring camp.  Parker recorded 7 tackles and one sack in the second scrimmage while adding a TFL in the Spring Game.  Parker will push Gibson for a starting job. 


  • How do the inexperienced LBs acquit themselves?  Which LBs among the 2003 recruiting class stand out?  Only one of the top eight LBs from last season participated fully in spring camp – Terry Bynes.  Two departed (Brian Bender and Brian Hohman) and five were injured (Thompson, Beckford, Hutchinson, Gilkison, and Cunningham).  Schiano switched former LB Eric Foster to DE before spring camp, leaving only two first-year scholarship players to fill gaping holes in the depth chart.  Quintero Frierson shined with excellent performances in the first scrimmage and the Spring Game.  He will push the veterans for playing time, likely at WLB behind Beckford. 

Kenny Gillespie was not impressive at SLB.  He had two tackles for the Scarlet team in the Spring Game.  He tackled Hairston for a 2-yard gain on a Power G run in the first half and tackled TE Sam Johnson after a 12-yard gain on a crossing route in the second half.  Kenny also had Johnson blanketed later on an out pattern off a QB bootleg.  On the other hand, Gillespie lost containment on the first play from scrimmage, resulting in a 39-yard gain by Justise Hairston.  Later, Gillespie was sealed inside on 11-yard run off-tackle to the strong side.   

Coming Next:  Summer Camp Preview.  I'll take a look at the biggest issues that the team faces in summer camp as well as some of the new faces. 

Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss spring camp with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board. 

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