Training camp preview: Defensive Secondary

Despite losing half of last season's starting secondary to the NFL, there's really only one question mark for next season and that's the CB spot next to senior Devin McCourty. The Rutgers football team's 15 spring practices gave head coach Greg Schiano a chance to evaluate a number of corners to fill the spot formerly held by Tennessee Titans' sixth round draft pick Jason McCourty.

However, no clear favorite has emerged.

Senior walk-on Billy Anderson, junior Brandon Bing and sophomore David Rowe all saw time with the first team, but no corner blew the other two out of the water. Both Anderson and Bing have the advantage of experience over Rowe and Bing's speed is a definite plus.

Rowe, on the other hand, brings a little more size to the position and was the most efficient of all three defensive backs last season in the nickel package. The only problem for him at this point is making the transition from nickel back to corner back, something that he has struggled with so far.

"David's gotten better. He's a young guy, so has Brandon [Bing], there is some good competition at the corner spot," said head coach Greg Schiano to SOR during spring camp.

When looking to what will change at the No. 2 cornerback spot in training camp, the competition will get even better as two new names pop up — Logan Ryan and Abdul Smith.

Both true freshman, Ryan and Smith will arrive on the Banks as potential long-term replacements for the McCourty twins. It's just a matter of how quickly one or both of the two can get acclimated to compete immediately for the second cornerback spot.

Ryan, an Eastern High School product from Voorhees, N.J., has the ideal size of a cornerback at 5'11" and 175 pounds, but does not sacrifice any speed with a 4.46 40-yard dash time according to Scout.com. Scout ranks Ryan as a three-star cornerback and the 53rd best at his position and the rookie has shown both a distinct ability to tackle, read offenses and cover on tape at the high school level.

"He's a guy that's a big corner [and] a sturdy guy," Schiano said on Ryan at his National Signing Day press conference. "He's strong, he's physically mature, and has great cover skills."

Smith, from Pennsburg, Pa., brings even more size to the cornerback position. Smith could play at either corner or safety for the Knights, but will likely get an earlier chance at corner because of the depth at safety and need at cornerback.

Smith stands at 6'0" and weighs in at 185 pounds. "Abdul is another one of those big corners," Schiano said. "He's an incredibly strong guy and I mean incredibly strong … That's going to serve him well when we play a lot of bump-and-run coverage … He could play anywhere in the secondary really. He's got talent."

Smith is another three-star defensive back recruit that will be interesting to watch this summer as either Ryan or Smith could see significant time at cornerback if impressive enough early. If not, both could potentially redshirt leaving Bing, Anderson, Rowe and redshirt freshman Brandon Jones to man down for the upcoming season.

As far as safety is concerned, Schiano has fewer questions to answer as the position is pretty clearly defined already.

Senior Zaire Kitchen and junior Joe Lefeged are both safely anchored in as the starters for now with sophomore Pat Kivlehan turning in an impressive spring as the primary backup.

Kitchen returned from knee surgery last season and had an enormous impact both backing up Courtney Greene and on special teams and Lefeged, returning this summer from shoulder surgery, shined as a starter in his sophomore season. He was fourth on the team in tackles with 72 and both forced and recovered two fumbles.

The only question mark at safety is what to do with true freshman Mohamed Sanu. Sanu, an early enrollee, excelled at safety to the point of making a push for a starting job by the midseason mark, but was just as impressive when Schiano tried him at wide receiver. If Sanu remains a defensive back, he could be this year's Kitchen, meaning a key guy on special teams and someone that can come up big when needed.

However, if he makes it as a wideout, he could do essentially the same thing as seen by his touchdown catch and overall elusiveness in the Scarlet-White game. No matter what side of the field Sanu ends up on during the 2009 season, he's sure to make an immediate impact.

Make sure to also see previous Training Camp Preview installments:
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