For a few years, the secondary has been a glaring weakness in Rutgers defensive scheme, with young players like Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi pressed into large roles as true freshmen.
However, coming out of the spring this year, it looked like those "green" players finally had the experience, and the secondary overall had the depth, to become a strength of the team. Barnwell started to look like the heralded prospect he was in high school, Cioffi beefed up and added a lot of functional weight, while maintaining his quickness and ball-hawking abilities, and Dre Boggs was finally fully healthy, and able to demonstrate the athleticism that won rave reviews. Rutgers also returned a lot of experience in Andre Hunt, Delon Stephenson and Davon Jacobs. Redshirt freshmen Darian Dailey, Isaiah Wharton and Saquan Hampton made big strides and were pushing for major playing time, and Rutgers added lengthy CB Blessaun Austin from Milford Academy, and Kiy Hester.
The secondary was exciting coming out of the spring, and fans had particularly high hopes for Barnwell, Austin and Boggs at corner, with Kiy Hester and Anthony CIoffi at safety.
But this is Rutgers, and we can't have nice things, so a lot of that hope fell apart last weekend.
First we learned about the Darian Dailey situation, which appears to be an enormously stupid action from a promising young player. Dailey's actions, or at least reported actions, have now resulted in his dismissal from the program, which is the least of his worries, as he might be facing a minimum 10 years sentence under Florida's 10-20-life regime.
And starting last weekend, there were rumors that Nadir Barnwell might be academically ineligible, a virtually unheard-of situation in recent years at Rutgers. That is not confirmed yet, and Coach Flood said last night that the final decision will not occur until August after the last summer session, but if true, Barnwell's absence would represent an enormous hit to the talent and depth at CB.
So where do the Knights go from here? Flood announced one move last night: Ruhann Peele will move from a crowded WR depth chart to CB, reprising a position switch he made as a redshirt freshman in 2013. Peele was out all of last year for a combination of an injury and suspension. There remains the possibility that Justin Goodwin will again move from RB to DB, as he also did last year.
Here's how I see the depth chart shaking out, assuming Barnwell is out.
Starters: Austin and Boggs
Backups and multi-corner sets: Wharton, Peele, Verbitski, Jarius Adams, Cioffi (if need be, although he's a natural safety)
Starters: Hester/Jacobs at Strong Safety and Cioffi/Stepheson at Free Safety
Backups: Andre Hunt, Saquan Hampton, Najee Clayton, Ronnie James
That's not terrible, particularly if true freshmen Adams and Clayton play well early, to add some depth. But potentially down two of his top cornerbacks, don't be surprised if Flood looks for a fifth-year transfer or JUCO defensive back, as he did with Lew Toler a few years ago.