RUTGERS RECRUITING NEEDS
Part 7: Defensive Backs
Head Coach Greg Schiano was a secondary coach with Penn State and the NFL Chicago Bears. If any one unit on his team should be consistently strong, it should be the DBs. Incomprehensibly, poor play in the Rutgers secondary has been a ongoing problem under Schiano. Personnel have come and gone – sometimes into the NFL. DB coaches have changed. Yet the problems persist. Few defensive backfield recruits have developed into reliable performers. Last season, the pass defense statistics, poor but not horrifying on first glance, nonetheless reflected only three formidable passing opponents. Rutgers opened the 2005 season with a combined two years of experience in the its starting secondary. Four first-year players saw playing time in the defensive backfield. This article, the seventh in a series of eight evaluating the needs of the 2006 recruiting class, looks at the shape of a young secondary.
So FS Ron Girault (12 GS, 86 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 3 INTs, 2 FR, one FF, and one BK) received a scholarship offer from Rutgers on the eve of national Letter of Intent day in 2004. By midseason, he was starting at WS ahead of two experienced veterans. Despite only a half year of starting experience, Girault was the leader of the secondary last season. As the old man at safety, Ron is a lock to start next season.
Fr WS Courtney Greene (12 GS, 116 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and 3 FF) did not commit to Rutgers until mid-June last year. He quickly asserted himself in summer camp and injuries created an opportunity to start in the season opener. Once there, Greene didn't relinquish the job. Leading the team in tackles, Courtney was a guided missile targeting ballcarriers from his safety position. With four safeties departed and two more veterans injured, Greene plugged a yawning gap on Schiano's depth chart. With Girault, Greene will give Rutgers a sure-tackling pair of safeties for another two years.
Sr CB Corey Barnes (12 GS, 37 tackles, 2 TFLs, one INT, and one FR) departed after his first – and only – full season at CB. He saw spot duty as a backup WR as a true freshman in 2001. Incoming freshmen pushed Barnes down the depth chart in 2003. He did not catch a pass and only saw limited duty on special teams. Barnes was pushed further down the depth chart in 2004 summer camp and played primarily on special teams until Schiano switched Corey to CB after a car accident wiped three DBs off the two-deep. Barnes emerged as a surprise starter last season, beating two more experienced players for a starting job.
Jr CB Derrick Roberson (10 GS, 12 GP, 51 tackles, one TFL, one FR, and one FF) played as a CB in the dime package as a true freshman. Though Roberson was initially beaten for one of two open starting CB jobs in 2004 by a less experienced player, he replaced the other starter in Game 3 and kept the job for the remainder of the season. Roberson was again beaten for starting job in 2005 but again replaced the other starter early in the season and subsequently kept his job. Roberson has been a favorite target of opposing QBs for three years. He will likely have to earn the starting job yet again.
Sr WS Jason Nugent (4 GP and 6 tackles) departed after never realizing his recruiting hype. Advertised as an explosive safety, Jason instead spent his freshman season as the fourth TB and a special teams playmaker. Schiano moved Nugent to WS in 2003 summer camp but Nugent struggled with the transition. He was demoted from the starting job in 2003 and again in 2004 for non-performance. Jason quickly lost his starting job to Greene in summer camp last year. He played as the third safety until suffering a season-ending knee injury in Game 4. Nugent was another example under Schiano of a good athlete who lacked football instincts.
Sr CB Manny Collins (12 GP, 27 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 2 BKs) practiced on the scout team as a walk-on in 2003. In 2004, he beat several scholarship players for a spot on the two-deep. Collins eventually replaced a former starter as the nickel CB. He was just starting to emerge as a capable backup when he was involved in the car accident after the Temple game. He missed the remainder of the 2004 season and 2005 spring camp. But he was cleared to play last season and played again as the nickel CB. He will compete for Barnes' vacated starting job.
Jr CB Joe Porter (2 GS, 12 GP, 26 tackles, and 2 TFLs) wasted his freshman redshirt primarily on special teams. The departure of two veteran CBs opened two starting jobs in 2004. Joe earned a starting job in summer camp ahead of two more experienced corners. After a rough start early in the season, Porter improved considerably as the 2004 season passed. Expected to be an impact player last season, Porter instead quickly lost his starting job and was eventually relegated to the fourth CB. He will compete for his lost starting job in spring camp.
Fr FS Glen Lee (12 GS, 18 tackles, and one FF) was expected to redshirt last season but severe attrition at safety forced him into service. Lee made the biggest impression on special teams, where he forced a fumble on a KOR and blocked a punt that was returned for a TD. He will likely resume his backup role and will probably see action as a S/OLB in the dime package.
Fr WS Jason McCourty (9 GP and 9 tackles) was also expected to redshirt last season but saw backup duty alongside Lee. However, Jason rarely saw the field behind Courtney Greene. He will try to maintain his grip on his backup job in spring camp.
Fr CB Leslie Jackman (10 GP and 3 tackles) committed to Rutgers in
June as a late qualifier. Leslie wasted his redshirt season primarily on
special teams. Given the abundance of young year players in the secondary,
Schiano may have been better served redshirting Jackman. He will compete
for spot on the two-deep in spring camp.
So S Robert Baham redshirted in 2004 and practiced with the scout team. The loss of six safeties created an opportunity last year for Baham. He had an outstanding summer camp until he suffered a season-ending hip injury. In the meantime, he has been passed on the depth chart by three true freshmen. Robert will embark upon earning his place in spring camp.
Fr CB Devin McCourty redshirted last season and practiced with the scout team. He will compete for spot on the two-deep in spring camp.
RS Fr S Chazz Lynn redshirted in 2004 while practicing on the scout team. Although the depth chart was decimated in 2004 after the car accident in which three DBs were lost for the season, Lynn was not seriously considered to fill the ranks. Schiano instead converted two WRs to CBs, including another true freshman. Lynn missed spring camp last year with a shoulder injury. Buried behind four true freshman on the depth chart, Lynn is not expected to contribute except perhaps on special teams.
So CB Anthony Miller left the team for personal reasons last summer. He was recruited as a WR. However, the tragic car accident in 2004 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. Miller was expected to beat Roberson for a starting CB job last season but Anthony's departure compounded the attrition at safety. Miller apparently has rejoined the program. Though he will compete for a spot on the two-deep in spring camp, he hasn't played football in a year at a position he was just beginning to learn.
RS Jr WS Bryan Durango transferred to Division I-AA Delaware last summer. He redshirted as a freshman in 2002. He won a four-way battle for the starting WS job in 2003 but a knee injury ended Durango's season prematurely. He lost his starting job to Nugent in 2004 summer camp, played as a backup, but again suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the campaign. Expected to provide depth at the thin safety position, his departure marked the fourth loss at safety.
A once-veteran secondary has been reloaded with young players. After returning only six experienced DBs last year, Schiano now has nine returning this year. Other returning players will give him a full three-deep in spring camp, assuming all are healthy. Competition should be healthy in spring camp as only two positions are sewn up. He needed to recruit a half class of DBs – one CB and one safeties. Schiano currently has signed commitments from two DBs – Julian Hayes of Malverne HS in Malverne, NY; CB Kevin Holloway of McArthur HS in Hollywood, FL; and S Zaire Kitchen of Hargrave Military Academy of Chatham, VA. Schiano has underweighted the defensive backfield to moderate the overweight class signed last year.
Coming Next: Rutgers Recruiting Needs, Part 8. Each position group has been reviewed and their needs have been identified. Which among these needs are the most pressing given the number of available scholarships? And how did the 2006 recruiting class that Schiano signed last week meet these needs?
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