Rutgers lost two big, productive, comforting members of its secondary in cornerback Devin McCourty and free safety Zaire Kitchen, and finding capable replacements in spring practice will be a central focus.
It is a daunting assignment, but fortunately for Rutgers, there are plenty of options. The defensive backfield may possess the most pure athleticism and talent of any group in the program.
There are the veteran returning starters in cornerback David Rowe and strong safety Joseph Lefeged, which offers familiarity, and plenty of excitement to see what youngsters Logan Ryan, Darrell Givens and Abdul Smith can offer.
When it is all done, the Scarlet Knights should have plenty of bodies to arrange a capable secondary, even if it needs to be determined how the different parts will line up.
The first thing the staff will work to decide is where everyone will play. Rowe, who will be a junior, grew as the starting cornerback opposite McCourty. He was solid in coverage and stopping the run, but his 4.6 speed and his 6-foot, 200-pound frame may make him better suited to play safety, especially if one of the younger players fail to emerge.
Even if Rowe stays at cornerback, there is plenty of talent to replace McCourty.
Red-shirt freshman-to-be Ryan, a highly-regarded 6-0, 185-pound cornerback from South Jersey, and Maryland native Givens, also a highly-regarded recruit will compete for playing time. Red-shirt freshman Smith also will get a chance to break into the cornerback rotation or he could, like Rowe, be shifted to safety.
Red-shirt sophomore-to-be Brandon Jones played a spot role last season in dime packages with mixed results, and will factor into the competition as well.
The Scarlet Knights are also in the mix for a pair of cornerbacks in Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) product Rashad Knight, who is visiting Jan. 22, and Trinity Catholic (Ocala, Fla.) standout Dionte Ponder. It remains to be seen how senior-to-be Brandon Bing factors into the rotation.
The loss of Kitchen is severe because, while he suffered a bit athletically because of three knee reconstruction surgeries, he was an intimidating presence and smart player.
Kitchen was a hard-hitter and a calming influence on younger players. That role now shifts to Lefeged, the senior, who is tremendous close to the line of scrimmage and in blitzing and pressuring the quarterback.
Rutgers is also actively recruiting a pair of safeties in Leto High of Tampa's Jeremy Deering, who is scheduled to visit Jan. 22, and DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) product Lorenzo Waters, who visited Rutgers the weekend of Dec. 5.
The Scarlet Knights are no longer recruiting St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) safety Brian Robinson.