Spring Football Camp Review -- 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.


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. 

Surprisingly, the view of spring ball from my vantage point 2,500 miles away was nearly as good as the view from New Jersey.  Spring camp was closed to the general public and press coverage was limited.  Results of two scrimmages were not reported.  The Spring Game essentially offered the only insight into spring camp.  I got to review a recording of the Spring Game.  I've had to base my observations and conclusions upon this single source, with the inevitable caveats.  The original text from the preview is presented in bold italics. 
Last season, Head Coach Greg Schiano replaced two defensive assistant coaches.  Schiano hired former North Carolina State DB Coach Chris Demarest to supplant former DB Coach Scott Lakatos, who later joined the Connecticut staff in the same capacity.  Schiano also promoted former graduate assistant Phil Galiano to replace former LB Coach Mark D'Onofrio, who accepted a position with Virginia as the Special Teams/Recruiting Coordinator.  The defense took yet another step backward last year.  An experienced DLine was repeatedly blown off the ball.  A deep and experienced linebacking corps was often missing in action at the point of attack and confused in pass coverage.  The secondary lacked both experience and depth at CB, compounded by poor play from the veteran safeties. 

Rutgers was ranked #97 (out of 117 Division IA teams) in passing defense (down from #52), #80 in rushing defense (down from #68), and #104 in total defense (down from #61).  While not as poor as the total defense, the scoring defense was ranked in the bottom quartile at #88 (down from #80).  The rush defense weakened.  Rushing yards allowed increased almost 10% to 178 yard per game (from 163).  The rushing defense worsened its yield per carry from a soft 4.2 yards per carry to a softer 4.3 yards per carry.  The pass defense was worse.  Although the sack total increased from 27 to 31, passing yardage allowed increased from 230 yards per game to 251 yards per game.  The big play again was the nemesis of the defense as it yielded 26 runs and 42 passes of at least 20 yards (versus 20 runs and 41 passes last year in one more game).  The secondary again bore the brunt of the blame. 

Schiano's defense is full of holes.  Depth at DT is suddenly tenuous.  The DEs too easily lose backside containment.  The LBs are a puzzle.  The CBs get burned deep.  And the safeties are often out of position for run support or pass coverage.  The staff also had holes that needed to be plugged.  Schiano demoted Galiano and switched former RB Coach Darren Rizzi to LB Coach.  Schiano also replaced departed DLine Coach Randy Melvin, who initially joined Ron Zook's staff at Illinois before accepting a job with the Cleveland Browns, with former Arizona Cardinals DLine Coach Cary Godette. 

The defense had four players miss spring camp with injuries and eight more miss the Spring Game.  As decimated as was the defense, it had fewer casualties than did the offense.  The defense returned eight starters and 15 players off the two-deep.  Six of the returning starters – and ten players from the two-deep – participated in the Spring Game.  The defense was divided unevenly between the White and Scarlet teams.  The talent disparity was mimicked on offense and the effect was magnified because the strong defensive unit was not matched against the strong offensive unit.  Not surprisingly, the two defenses performed very unevenly given their respective mismatches. 

The Spring Game closely approximated a full game for the entire defensive unit.  The combined snaps for both teams slightly exaggerate those of a single team in a typical game.  The defenses allowed only 24 points – 21 by the weaker unit.  The defenses yielded 359 total yards – 299 by the weaker unit.  The rush defense was not stout, allowing 122 yards on 26 carries for a generous average of 4.7 yards per carry that was nearly identical for each unit.  The pass defenses yielded a combined 232 net passing yards on 60 designed pass plays, including yardage gained on scrambles and lost on sacks – 198 yards by the weaker unit. 


  • The young secondary will be matched against a talented and experienced passing attack.  How will the secondary fare in pass defense?  Injuries thinned the ranks of both offense and defense considerably.  The uneven distribution of talent created a severe imbalance on the field.  As a result, the more talented, experienced secondary allowed only 53 passing yards and recorded one INT and two pass breakups.  On the other hand, the green secondary was lit up by a more veteran offense for 215 passing yards and a TD. 


  • How effective are the LBs in pass coverage on the underneath routes – either zone or man-to-man?  The areas/players of LB responsibility were targeted – or could have been targeted by a QB checking down – 28 times.  The QBs completed 13 passes for a net gain of 122 yards, including minus 30 yards lost on five sacks and 15 yards gained on four scrambles.  In the zone defense, the LBs yielded 10 completions in 12 attempts for 113 yards (walk-ons yielded 57 on three plays).  In the man-to-man defenses, the LBs allowed only 3 completions in 7 pass attempts for 24 yards.  All five sacks and four scrambles occurred against the man defense.  The man-to-man defense was far more effective. 


  • Do the DEs keep backside containment?  Backside containment was only challenged four times – on two bootlegs, a flanker reverse pass, and an inside zone play.  The DEs maintained containment on each of the three passes, forcing quick throws on bootlegs (for 10 yards) and preventing the reverse pass.  The inside zone play is not designed to exploit overpursuit but containment nonetheless broke down, resulting in an 11-yard gain when the TB bounded outside the unguarded edge. 


  • Are the deep safeties keeping opposing receivers in front of them?  The safeties were not beaten deep in the Cover 2 alignment.  They were beaten in the Cover 1 scheme, but only along the sideline and typically away from the twins side of a 3WR formation, to which the centerfielder was shaded (a nearly impossible assignment). 


  • Are the DBs and LBs being more physical in pass coverage?  Last year, I seldom noticed physical play in the Rutgers secondary by LBs or DBs.  Opposing WRs/TEs ran their pass routes unmolested by defenders allowed to hit them as long as the ball was not in the air.  I noticed some physical play but the LBs especially allowed too many free releases by the TEs or unobstructed shallow crossing routes. 


  • Are the DBs looking back for the football to break-up or intercept passes?   The scholarship DBs were challenged deep four times and didn't yield any completions.  Jr CB Joe Porter intercepted a pass and had inside position on two others.  Sr CB Corey Barnes was tested once and was in position (but the pass was overthrown).  So CB Anthony Miller was not tested.  Nor were the scholarship safeties. 


  • How do the CBs look against the WRs?   The scholarship CBs yielded only 38 net pass yards (including seven yard gained on a pass interference penalty and two yards gained on a scramble) on 7 completions in 17 attempts.  Furthermore, the CBs intercepted two passes, one of which was nullified by a bad sack call after the pass was thrown. 


  • Are the CBs giving up generous cushions and conceding the underneath routes?   In zone scheme, the CBs covered their zones tightly, not allowing a completion longer than six yards.  In man-to-man coverage, the CBs closed quickly on comeback routes. 


  • If the CBs tighten their coverage, are they getting beat over the top?   In spite of the tight coverage, the CBs weren't beaten deep once in man-to-man coverage. 


  • Are the CBs jamming WRs at the line of scrimmage and disrupting their routes?  They were not pressing the WRs and therefore, didn't jam at the LOS.  I observed only one CB jam, as a WR attempted a hitch-n-go route – after the hitch to avoid getting beat.  A must to avoid giving up the big play. 


  • In a Cover 2 zone underneath coverage scheme, are the CBs physically funneling the WRs inside towards the safeties?  The CBs funneled the WRs inside and weren't beaten outside once in the zone. 


  • The dime defense employed a similar look with DBs playing the OLB roles.  Are the dime OLBs also funneling WRs inside?  The defenses exclusively played a base 4-3 defense in the Spring Game.  There weren't enough DBs to deploy a dime package. 


  • With the OLine and TB position thinned by injuries, the improvement of the LB corps in defending the run won't be accurately measurable in spring camp.  The LBs weren't seriously tested in the Spring Game.  The first team faced only seven designed running plays.  The second team consisted of only one experienced LB – Jr SLB Quintero Frierson, who did not play well.  RS Fr Chenry Lewis made the biggest impression as LB.  He has a nose for the football. 


  • The performance of the DLine as a unit can't be gauged in spring camp because the DLine and OLine were each terrible last season.  The DLine lost four players off the two deep.  The losses were heaviest at DT, including both starters and a backup.  Will a rebuilt DLine that couldn't stop the opposing rushing attack last year show improvement?  That question can't be answered in spring camp.  Not against a rebuilt OLine that couldn't open holes for its running backs last year.  No, the level of improvement by DLine the won't be measurable until September.  The veteran DEs dominated the young OTs, much as expected.  The green DTs, thinned further still by injuries and dismissals on top of departures, played surprisingly well against the OLine.  The DLine outplayed the OLine in the Spring Game.  For what it's worth. 


Positions across the depth chart will be hotly contested in spring camp.  Departures, injuries, and potential position changes could put all but three positions up for grabs.  Here are the most interesting developments to observe on the depth chart:

  • Who will start alongside Sr DT Luis Rivas?  The unsurprising dismissal of Jr DT Nate Robinson threw the competition wide open.  Jr Rameel Meekins missed the Spring Game with an unspecified injury.  In his absence, RS Jr Cameron Stephenson laid claim to the starting job and backed that claim with strong play in the Spring Game. 


  • Who replaces Jarvis Johnson as the starting FS?  If it's So Ron Girault, who replaces him as the starting WS?  Sr Jason Nugent and Girault shared both safety responsibilities in the Spring Game.  Nugent started the game at FS, which is a questionable personnel move given Nugent's frequent inability to find the football.  The FS is the last line of defense.  Does somebody who is often missing in action meet the needs of that role? 


  • Does Sr William Beckford or So Quintero Frierson earn the starting WLB job?  Are they both practicing at WLB?  Beckford ran with the first team at WLB in the Spring Game.  Therefore, he likely has the edge on Frierson.  Lewis was the second team WLB. 


  • Who fills in for Sr Terry Bynes as the first team SLB?  If its either Beckford or Frierson, they likely will battle Bynes for the staring job in summer camp.  Frierson played at SLB in the Spring Game but was missing in action at the point of attack a few times.  It appears that Quintero will challenge Bynes for the starting job in summer camp but, based upon his play in the Spring Game, should be the backup. 


  • Can Jr Derrick Roberson maintain his starting CB job or will Miller displace him?  Roberson missed the Spring Game with an unspecified injury.  Miller played well in the Spring Game, matched against the "varsity".  Anthony showed a willingness to stick his nose in for run support.  He recorded eight tackles but committed one pass interference penalty.  He didn't allow a completion longer than ten yards and yielded only 26 yards on four catches. 


  • Where does RS Sr Brad Cunningham play – SLB or WLB?  If it's at WLB, then Bynes' job is definitely up for grabs.  Cunningham missed the Spring Game with an unknown injury.  His spot in the rotation was taken by Lewis.  Sr Will Gilkison, the backup MLB, played at SLB.  Lewis played at WLB, essentially filling Cunningham's role while Gilkison was the utility reserve.  Cunningham will have to fend off an unexpected challenge from Lewis for his backup job. 


  • Will Sr Val Barnaby remain at DE or be moved to DT?  If Barnaby is moved inside, who will replace him in the starting lineup – RS Sr Piana Lukabu or RS So Eric Foster?  Barnaby remained the starting right DE opposite RS Sr Ryan Neill.  Surprisingly, Foster, who arrived at Rutgers as an LB, was moved inside and played in a four-man tackle rotation.  Satisfactory play by RS Fr DT Carl Howard and true Fr DT Jon Pierre-Etienne initially made Foster's contribution at DT less certain.  The recent dismissal of Lukabu and an allegedly season-ending hip surgery for JPE rendered Foster's position uncertain as depth is now suspect at both DE and DT. 


  • Will any second year DL break into the two-deep?  RS Fr Jamaal Westerman was very impressive in the Spring Game.  He recorded six tackles, including three sacks.  He terrorized the backfield off the left edge.  However, he did most of his damage against second team players substituting for starting RT RS Sr Sameeh McDonald.  Nonetheless, Westerman's emergence gave Schiano the luxury of moving Foster inside to DT.  An experiment possibly ended by the recent dismissal of Lukabu. 


  • Who will be the backup safeties and CBs during camp with only an experienced one-deep available?  There were only three scholarship CBs and six DBs available in the Spring Game.  Barnes emerged as a viable backup at CB.  Walk-ons Brandon Wood, Brandon Renkhart, and Nkosi Remy started in the Spring Game.  Both Wood and Renkhart played ahead of RS So Kenny Gillespie. 


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


Sr Val Barnaby

RS Fr Jamaal Westerman


RS Jr Cameron Stephenson

RS Fr Carl Howard


Sr Luis Rivas

Jr Rameel Meekins


RS Sr Ryan Neill

RS So Eric Foster


So Quintero Frierson

RS Sr Brad Cunningham


Jr DeVraun Thompson

Sr Will Gilkison


Sr William Beckford

RS Fr Chenry Lewis


Jr Joe Porter

So Anthony Miller


So Ron Girault

RS Fr Robert Baham


Sr Jason Nugent

RS So Kenny Gillespie


Jr Derrick Roberson

Sr Corey Barnes


Missing:  RS Jr WS Bryan Durango (knee), Sr SLB Terry Bynes (groin), RS Sr Piana Lukabu (dismissed), and Jr DT Nate Robinson (dismissed).  


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:

  • Has Roberson's pass coverage improved?  Is he being more physical?  Roberson missed the Spring Game with an unknown injury.  It better be a minor injury because the defensive backfield lacks depth and experience.  We'll find out about Roberson's pass coverage on Opening Day.  Miller will push Derrick for his starting job. 


  • Is Nugent finding the football or is he still lost?  Nugent was not tested very much in the Spring Game.  He played both WS and FS, alternating with Girault.  In run support, Jason didn't make any tackles.  But he was never deployed as the eighth man in the box; he was playing deeper.  Since he was on the field for no more than seven designed runs, he was not really tested in a run support role.  In pass defense, he was primarily deployed in a Cover 1 scheme – sometimes as the lone deep safety (centerfielder), sometimes covering the slot receiver.  He wasn't beaten for any big plays but he was beaten along the sidelines several times as the centerfielder, an especially difficult assignment when shaded to the other side over twins in a 3WR set. 


  • Will Robinson contribute significantly?  Nate got himself tossed from the program midway through camp for a violation of team policy.  Robinson has been a source of controversy since the day he joined the football team.  Long on talent but short on work ethic, Robinson is another in a long line of highly touted recruits who have been busts.  This personnel move is addition by subtraction. 


  • Does Beckford look fully recovered from his knee injury?  Beckford was not tested appreciably in the Spring Game.  The opposing team attempted only seven carries, none of which involved William.  The opponent primarily threw the ball – inaccurately.  Beckford recorded only one tackle, in which he ran down the FB on a bootleg drag route for a gain of only one yard on 2nd-n-11. 


  • Does Stephenson look like a contributor this year?  Stephenson played well in the Spring Game.  He recorded only one tackles but it was a TFL.  He also blew up RG Randy Boxill on an inside zone play, creating a gap through which the LB shot to drop TB Jean Beljour for a loss.  Stephenson also committed a personal foul that nullified a TFL and extended the opponent's only scoring drive.  Stephenson held his own with the OL.  He will likely start alongside Rivas. 


  • What leadership will Rivas provide at DT?  Can he be a playmaker?  Rivas missed the Spring Game with an unknown injury.  The injury had better be minor. Schiano can't afford to lose his most experienced DT.  The DLine is bordering on anorexic. 


  • Is Lukabu overpursuing and losing backside containment?  Yup.  RS Sr TB Clarence Pittman's second longest run was an 11-yard scamper around left end on an inside zone right play, designed to be run away from Lukabu at RDE.  The FB is responsible for sealing the backside DE.  But Lukabu pinched hard and beat RS Sr FB Ishmael Medley inside.  However, Pittman cutback and then bounced further outside around the uncovered edge. 


  • Do Howard and RS Fr DT Joe Salinardi look like contributors?  Salinardi missed the Spring Game for "personal reasons".  That's rarely a good sign.  Howard performed surprisingly well in the Spring Game.  He started and played for both teams, alternating with JPE.  Howard recorded two tackles and a sack.  He generally held his own against So LG Jeremy Zuttah and RS Sr RG John Glass.  Howard should contribute on the two-deep.  I'm not expecting Salinardi to contribute. 


  • Will RS Fr S Robert Baham and/or RS Fr CB Chazz Lynn contribute?  Lynn missed spring camp with a shoulder injury.  Baham missed the Spring Game with an unknown injury.  We'll find out about each in September. 


  • Does Gillespie show any signs of contributing this year?  Gillespie apparently was moved to FS for spring camp.  He backed upon walk-on Brandon Wood in the Spring Game.  Walk-on Brandon Renkhart started ahead of Kenny at WS.  If Gillespie is practicing behind two walk-ons, he likely won't contribute this year other than on special teams. 

Coming Next:  Welcome to the Big East.  In a three-part series, I'll take a look at the new members of the Big East Conference. 

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 the upcoming football season with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board. 

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