The unit responsible for all of the broken records the past few years has been the cornerbacks. The past three years, Rutgers has been consistently torched in the air by opposing teams. It became a "thing" for struggling quarterbacks to have their breakout game against Rutgers. With his defensive back background, Chris Ash won't let that happen again.
This is a group that became seriously depleted as a result of the off-field scandals and subsequent dismissals last year. Because of this, Rutgers was starting two freshmen opposite each other and they were not put in great positions to succeed. Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin both stood 6-1, which is more than ideal for a cornerback. Given that they were freshmen, they were still very raw technique and scheme wise. They both could use their bodies to press at the line of scrimmage and use their lanky frames to make up space.The ideal scheme would've been 2 man under or putting them on an island with experienced ballhawk Anthony Cioffi covering over the top. Instead, Joe Rossi elected to play them with their backs to the sideline and put them in complex zone schemes that didn't fit their skill sets. This was the biggest downfall for this group last year but will almost definitely be corrected in 2016.
So Blessuan Austin
RS-So Isaiah Wharton
So Jarius Adams
RS-Sr Brian Verbitski
RS-Jr Zane Campbell
RS-Fr Brian Chase
So Ronnie James
RS-Jr Ross Douglas
Of these seven guys, Rutgers will have just four with real game experience at cornerback. While Wharton and Austin were expected to play in 2015, it was unfair to Ronnie James and Jarius Adams to force them into action so early as true freshmen. However, that experience will be to their advantage this year as it will separate them from everyone else on the roster. One player that catches my eye is Zane Campbell. I had never heard of him before writing this article, but I stopped to read about him when I saw he was 6-3(!!). He spent his first two year at DIII Wesley College and led his team in interceptions his freshman year. He obviously took a redshirt year in 2015 and hopefully worked on filling out his 180 pound frame. I see tons of potential in him. There is also Ross Douglas, the transfer from Michigan who will step in with 2 years of eligibility and help add depth.
Coaching them up
The great news is that Chris Ash's background is in coaching DBs. That will be crucial with this group of young players who haven't exactly been coached very well. Austin and Wharton have all-B1G potential and as I mentioned before, Zane Campbell is a guy with potential too. Jarius Adams and Ronnie James were literally thrown out to the wolves, as there was simply no one else on the team that could play cornerback at points in the season. They weren't ready to play in the B1G last year and were locks to redshirt when they signed in February 2015. It will be interesting to see how Ash uses his expertise on this group.
No real changes in personnel
The top four cornerbacks will likely remain unchanged from last year. Expect Wharton and Austin to hold it down on the outside while James and Adams provide depth and the ability to step in and play in the nickel and dime sets. At 5-10, Adams will likely find himself as the third corner playing on the inside, which plays more to his strengths. He will also be challenged by Ross Douglas for that spot. James and Zane Campbell can be quality backups to Wharton and Austin as well. Campbell is the only guy I expect to play this year who didn't play last year.
Really, the sole reason that Rutgers lost to Michigan State was because the cornerbacks were consistently getting Moss'd and didn't win a single jump ball. On fourth down, when Rutgers could've ended the game, Connor Cook chucked up a prayer to the sideline and his prayer was answered--for the third or fourth time that game. At will, he could throw the ball up and let his receivers dominate our big cornerbacks. It was as if these guys had never been taught ball skills. It is one thing to get beat on one play, but when it becomes a pattern then it becomes a problem. Bill Busch needs to teach these guys how to use their big bodies to their advantage and go up and at least deflect those 50/50 balls that can decide a game.
CB1: Isaiah Wharton // Zane Campbell
CB2: Blessuan Austin // Ronnie James
Slot: Jarius Adams // Ross Douglas
Tomorrow: #10Strong Spring Preview | Safeties