Wow, the hits keep coming for the Rutgers football team, less than 48 hours before opening their season at home against Norfolk State. On top of the daily speculation and waiting regarding the status of the investigation of head coach Kyle Flood, the team was rocked with five players arrested. Athletic Director Julie Hermann announced they were all suspended from the program indefinitely. Let's review the outlook for each player, the depth of the secondary, and ultimately, the state of the team.
Players Arrested & Suspended:
He was arrested along with former Rutgers player Tejay Johnson on multiple charges involving robbery and armed burglary among other charges. The police investigation determined they stole money and marijuana from students in private residences on campus. Boggs, penciled in to start at cornerback, has likely seen his last day as a member of the Rutgers football program.
Peele was suspended last season due to being arrested for assault charges that were ultimately dropped. He earned his way back, only to be suspended for the first half of Saturday's opening game due to a curfew violation. It is important to denote that Peele was not arrested as part of the armed robberies. He was arrested for participating in a fight along with other Rutgers players that left one person with a broken jaw. The formal charges are aggravated assault, riot, and conspiracy to commit a riot. His days are done at Rutgers for sure as this is his third suspension in a year.
Barnwell was also arrested as part of the fight and charged with aggravated assault, riot and conspiracy to commit a riot. This is not his first arrest while at Rutgers as he has a DWI on his record as well. Of course, Barnwell was in danger of becoming academically ineligible for this season, although an official ruling had not been announced. He is the subject of coach Kyle Flood's email under investigation by the university. It's safe to say the highly recruited Barnwell has been a major disappointment for his career. Based on most likely being ruled not in good academic standing, coupled with this second arrest, his time at Rutgers is most likely over.
Stephenson was set to start at free safety before today's arrest for aggravated assault, riot and conspiracy to commit a riot. A junior with no previous arrests, I would think he has a chance to return to the program down the road, but I think it's too early to know as more details could emerge.
Same across the board as Stephenson for Gross, as the redshirt sophomore has no previous disciplinary issues. Time will tell if he is allowed to return.
Secondary Depth: Next Man Up
We now have an open spot at cornerback with Boggs gone. It makes sense redshirt freshman Isaiah Wharton takes over at corner opposite true freshman Blessuan Austin. True freshman Jarius Adams, who was listed on the two deep depth chart from Tuesday due to Peele's suspension, should move to the third cornerback behind Austin and Wharton. Who is next after those three? I think true freshman Najee Clayton, who was just cleared to play this week, will be thrown in the fire quickly. It's likely Justin Goodwin, who converted from running back to cornerback last season, only to switch back to running back, will move back to the secondary out of necessity. Zane Campbell, a transfer from Division III Wesley College has a shot to play. Aside from that, true freshman and Paul James brother, Ronnie, may see time soon. He is currently listed as questionable on the injury report for a lower body injury. And then there is true freshman Charles Snorweah, who was recruited as a running back but also played corner in high school. They could move him as well once he is healthy as he is listed as out this week with a upper body injury.
In terms of replacing Stephenson at free safety, Anthony Cioffi steps in immediately. Although he has played corner the past two seasons, he was moved to safety for a reason. The fact that he slides in that role as a starter, I wouldn't expect a change back to corner. I think he is set up to be successful in this role and better suited for it. It is the lack of depth behind him that is concerning. Redshirt Saquan Hampton should be in line to back Cioffi up. Kiy Hester is out this week with a lower body injury, let's hope its not long term. He was slated to back up starting strong safety Davon Jacobs could be a major plus factor this season. Andre Hunt moved into the backup role for this week's game and will have opportunity to succeed.
Defensive Coordinator Joe Rossi is currently in his office burning his depth chart and will look at all options on the roster. For sub packages, he will look at multiple combinations of personnel. Based on everything above, this is how I see the secondary depth chart for now:
CB: Blessuan Austin/Jarius Adams/Najee Clayton
FS: Anthony Cioffi/Saquan Hampton
SS: Davon Jacobs/Kiy Hester/Andre Hunt
CB: Isaiah Wharton/Justin Goodwin or Ronnie James/Zane Campbell
Last week after the curfew violations led to 1st half suspensions for the opening game and the Flood investigation was reported, I wrote this, stating this adversity would unite the team for a great season. Well, its really now or never for this group of seniors, and to start the season under these circumstances is extremely difficult and unfair. However, this is the hand they have been dealt and they seem mature and strong enough to stay above it. Captains Paul James, Leonte Carroo, Quentin Gause and Darius Hamilton will be tested more than they could have ever imagined headed into this season. I will restate my belief that they are as strong a set of captains this program has had. For me, they are a major reason I am optimistic this team sticks together and bonds throughout this unprecedented adversity. They have everything to play for and their backs are truly against the wall. The only questions among them is Hamilton's health, which is a legitimate concern. Regardless, his leadership on the sidelines will be important, much like James helped after his injury last season.
There will be little belief the season can still be a success outside of loyal Rutgers supporters. If we thought preseason predictions for this team were low, even less will be projected now. Along with the captains, players like Keith Lumpkin, Sam Bergen, Steve Longa and even graduate transfer Kaiwan Lewis will be key in leading and keeping this team together. The leadership alone of the linebacking core made up of Longa, Gause and Lewis will be a key in not only the defense surviving this attrition in the secondary, but being successful in spite of it.
All hope is not lost. Today was sad for many reasons. The future of several young men is in serious question. They only have themselves to blame. It's sad because innocent people were hurt and robbed by these troubled young men. From a football perspective, it took a stressful and upsetting set of circumstances to start the season, and turned them upside down resulting in shock and despair, disgust, and worry the season is over before it even begins.
I am not buying it. This team is made of close to a hundred young men. Several made terrible life decisions and will not be part of this team anymore. However, I continue to point to the players at the top, and there is class in spades. I have loved the quote, "it's always darkest before the dawn" for some time. Adversity can lead to greatness for a group of individuals that have the right mind set, belief in each other, determination and strong will. Well we are officially very close to dawn, although the fate of head coach Kyle Flood is in serious question even more so today. However, his fate is out of their control. This season is about the group of players now, more so than ever. They have 12 games and three plus months ahead of them that is in their control. While the world around them has spun out of control, they own their responsibilities and opportunities ahead. Let's hope loyal sons James, Caroo, Gause, Hamilton, Lumpkin, Longa and others lead our Scarlet Knights through this dark hour and cement their legacies as great men of Rutgers. And most importantly, winners!
Back against the wall, Under pressure never fold!... How I was raised. RN$— Kaiwan Lewis (@LongLiveBillzy) September 3, 2015