RUTGERS RECRUITING NEEDS
Part 7: Defensive Backs
Head Coach Greg Schiano arrived at Rutgers in December 2000 as the youngest head coach in the nation at 34 years. He retained that distinction until Miami (OH) promoted 38-year old Offensive Coordinator Shane Montgomery to its head coaching position in December. Growing pains were nearly inevitable for a young coach with only two years of coordinator experience. However, Schiano was a secondary coach with Penn State and the Chicago Bears. If any one unit on the team should be strong, it should be the DBs. Yet poor play in the Rutgers secondary has been a ongoing problem under Schiano as he has developed few defensive backfield recruits into reliable performers. Schiano employed a Cover 1 scheme with loose man-to-man coverage in his first three seasons. It didn't work as opponents routinely took the easy yardage underneath or beat the Scarlet Knight CBs deep if they tightened their cushions. Schiano mixed in a much heavier dose of zone coverage this past year but it was equally ineffective as opponents again threw short or deep with equal success. Schiano started one true freshman and two true sophomores last year. This article, the seventh in a series of eight evaluating the needs of the 2005 recruiting class, looks at the shape in a green secondary that lost its most experienced player.
So CB Joe Porter wasted his freshman redshirt primarily on special teams. The departure of two veteran CBs opened two starting jobs to competition. He earned a starting CB job this past year in summer camp, ahead of two more experienced corners. After a rough start early in the season in which he was repeatedly beaten deep or committed pass interference, Porter improved considerably as the season passed. He will retain his starting job and may yet develop into a standout CB if the coaching deficiencies that have plagued the secondary are remedied.
Sr FS Jarvis Johnson was a member of Schiano's first recruiting class. He drew raves for his performance in summer camp in 2001 as a true freshman but, buried on the depth chart behind four veteran safeties, only saw action on special teams. Jarvis beat a veteran for the starting job in 2002. He was a three-year starter at FS but never really improved. Promoted as a Bednarik Award candidate this past season, he was not even the best safety in the Scarlet Knight secondary. Johnson's career was more known for blown assignments than it was for big plays. While his experience will be missed in a young secondary, his actual performance wasn't exactly irreplaceable.
Fr WS Ron Girault was lightly recruited because he was a tweener – too slow for safety and too small for LB. He received a scholarship offer from Rutgers on the eve of national Letter of Intent day, when another recruit committed elsewhere. It was Girault's only Division IA offer. He started the season on special teams and was very quickly promoted to the starting WS job ahead of two experienced veterans. Girault's freshman campaign closely mirrored that of So MLB DeVraun Thompson. Like Thompson, Girault isn't an athlete; he's a football player. Schiano needs more players like Girault who can (1) find the football and (2) tackle the ballcarrier.
So CB Derrick Roberson played as a CB in the dime package as a true freshman. Schiano moved veteran CB Nate Jones to deep safety in the dime scheme and plugged Roberson into the outside CB role in Jones' place. The results were disastrous as Roberson was repeatedly abused by a parade of opposing QBs. It was a harsh baptism by fire. Roberson was beaten for one of two open starting CB jobs by the less experienced Porter. However, Derrick saw the field plenty as the third CB. Roberson displaced the starter in Game 3 and started the remainder of the season. Roberson again was the target of choice for opposing QBs as he had another rough campaign. His starting job should not be secure.
Sr CB Eddie Grimes was a member of Schiano's first recruiting class and played on special teams as a true freshman. He was seldom used as the fourth CB in 2002 behind three veterans. Eddie was used as a nickel CB and a dime S/OLB in 2003. By the end of the season, Grimes was arguably playing better than any other CB on the roster. He was expected to soften the blow of losing both starting CBs. However, Grimes played poorly in the first two games and lost his starting job. His season ended prematurely in mid-October when he was involved in an automobile accident with two other Scarlet Knight players after the Temple game. A struggling unit suffered the dual shocks of lost depth/experience and the psychological trauma of carrying on with teammates/friends in the hospital.
Jr FS Dondre Asberry saw unexpected action at backup FS as a true freshman in 2002 after the former starter suddenly quit the team early in the season. Dondre was thrust into the void. Perhaps the best commentary on Asberry's prospects occurred last year (2003) when Schiano played Roberson, a true freshman who struggled badly, in the dime package rather than playing Asberry at deep safety. Dondre again backed up Johnson at FS this past season; he was also used at S/OLB in the dime package, where he was not effective. He suffered career-ending injuries the Temple post-game car accident. He was hospitalized for several weeks and underwent multiple surgeries. His big challenge now isn't climbing the depth chart; it's putting his life back together. I wish him the best of luck.
Jr WS Jason Nugent was highly touted as a safety when he signed with Rutgers in 2002. However, he spent his freshman season as the fourth team TB and a special teams playmaker. Schiano moved Nugent to WS in summer camp prior to the 2003 season. Nugent has struggled with this transition to safety. He seems lost on the field; another example of a good athlete who lacks football instincts. He was demoted from the starting job in each of the past two seasons for non-performance. He will compete for the starting FS job in place of Johnson. He won't displace Girault at WS.
Jr CB Manny Collins is a walk-on who beat several scholarship players for a spot on the two-deep. Collins eventually replaced Grimes as the nickel CB. He played a terrific game against Temple but was also involved in the car accident after the game. He too missed the remainder of the season, wiping the second team CB ranks clean. Collins is not expected to return to the team either. A real feel-good walk-on story came to a tragic end.
Fr CB Anthony Miller was a highly touted WR recruit out of Edison. Off-the-field issues that occurred prior to his enrollment at Rutgers sidelined him early in the season. However, the tragic car accident created a crisis in the secondary as Schiano had only two experienced CBs – his starters – and few viable options as backup CBs. Schiano switched Miller to CB and immediately plugged him into the playing rotation. Miller performed satisfactorily given the circumstances. He shows promise as a CB. But will he stay at CB or return to WR, which is allegedly his preference?
RS So WS Bryan Durango redshirted as a freshman in 2002. He won a four-way battle for the starting WS job in 2003 but a knee injury suffered prior to Game 4 ended Durango's season prematurely. He lost his starting job to Nugent in summer camp this past year and again suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the campaign. With Girault firmly entrenched at WS, Durango likely will compete with Nugent for the starting FS job.
RS Sr FS Jason Grant was a member of former Head Coach Terry Shea's final recruiting class and was a rare redshirt in 2000. He played on special teams in 2001. Jason earned the backup WS job in 2002 and, with the unexpected loss of incumbent starting FS, was the only backup safety on the roster. He entered spring camp in 2003 as the incumbent at WS but lost his starting job in summer camp. An injury to Durango and poor play by the backup (Nugent) afforded Grant an opportunity for increased playing time as the 2003 season progressed; Jason displaced Nugent as the starter in the second half of the season. Grant served as a backup WS, and later FS, this past season, seeing most of his playing time as a S/OLB in the dime package.
RS Fr CB Tre Timbers redshirted last year as a freshman while two other true freshman CBs played ahead of him. Timbers did not play this past season either, as a walk-on and true freshman converted WR played ahead of him. Reports emerged that Timbers was repeatedly in the doghouse with the coaching staff and was unlikely to contribute on the field. In an unsurprising development, Timbers is transferring to Division I-AA Rhode Island.
RS Jr CB Bryan Wilson was a member of Schiano's first recruiting class. He was recruited as a WR but played primarily on special teams in 2002 and 2003. Bryan suffered a career ending injury in late November last season and was not ready to play this past season. He won't return for a fifth season, which likely would have been the case had he not injured his knee.
Fr S Robert Baham was one of the top high school safeties in Florida in 2003. He signed with Rutgers three days after national Letter of Intent day. Surprisingly, Baham was not the first true freshman to see playing time this year; Girault was. The program has not always been forthcoming with news about the eligibility of its players. Perhaps Baham was another such player whose mysterious disappearance was due to eligibility issues. He will get a chance to compete for a vacancy on the two-deep at safety.
Fr S Chazz Lynn was also lightly recruited. He redshirted this past season. He will compete for a backup CB job on the second team.
The secondary, once the deepest and most experienced unit on Schiano's team, is now one of the thinnest and least experienced. Schiano has relied heavily upon Shea recruits to man his secondary. But the team now consists solely of players recruited and developed by Schiano. In four years, only one player has started more than one season. And that player has departed. The auto accident decimated the secondary last season and its effects will still be felt next season as two experienced players scheduled to return will not be back. Schiano has only five experienced DBs and three unproven reserves. He needs to recruit a full class of DBs – two CBs and two safeties. And redshirt them, if injuries or non-performance don't press freshman into service on the two-deep.
Coming Next: Rutgers Recruiting Needs, Part 8. Each position group has been reviewed and their needs have been identified. But how many scholarships are available? And which among these needs are the most pressing?
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