After Friday’s practice, assistant coach Lester Erb spoke about the running backs and the progress they’ve made during training camp. In addition, co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Bill Busch talked about the safeties and how they have looked so far, almost three weeks into camp. Here is what Busch had to say:
An Overview Of The Safety Group
“Right now, the good thing is we're getting in a lot of quality work. We have guys that are practicing every day. That's a huge plus. We have a lot of returners, guys that have played in games. That's always a lot more fun to coach guys that have been through some of those things before. We've been very happy with the amount of work they've got in, the retention they've had from last year. They are working extremely hard.”
On Having A Veteran Group Return
“It starts with confidence. Obviously, the good thing is we have guys back but we also have talented guys back. That's a plus for us. Sometimes 'guys back' can be confusing. We have some very talented guys back. It does help you. It makes you play faster. … You cannot play fast if you don't know what you're doing. That's impossible. Their retention and their high football IQ right now, they're doing a great job of playing fast and knowing exactly what to expect and what is going on.”
On How Tough It Was Not Having Saquan Hampton Healthy Most Of Last Season
“It sucked. It really sucked. It was like the third or fourth series. He had played so well. He showed how tough he was. I think he came back and played. He has great range. He also has great cover skills. He can get matched up on some people. We never had the chance to … literally it was the first or second quarter when it was. Knock on wood. He's had a great camp we expect great things from him.”
“It was tough. Now he's 100 percent healthy. He was restricted just by the apparatus he had to wear. He was restricted by it that way. Still in the Maryland game he had to have 100 tackles. The one thing it did show all of us is that is a tough dude. That was impressive.”
Freshmen Performances So Far
“I've been very happy with those guys. It is such a difference when you come into Division I football. I don't care where you're at. Any level, it is just so different, so hard. All of a sudden, 'wow' there is a lot of calls and situations, things that are going on that are a lot different. Those guys have handled that very well. I've been very happy with Tank (Edwin Lopez). I've been very happy with Naijee (Jones). He's done a good job for us. Timmy Barrow has done a great job for us back there, too.”
“We sure have not made any decisions that we wouldn't play them right now. We prepare them all. They were getting reps today. We just keep preparing those guys to play. You never know how fast things can change. I've been in a situation in a bowl game before where I had a safety play seven plays who had never played all season. He was the sixth safety. All of a sudden in the third quarter, he was the second safety. It can happen sometimes, so we keep training them.”
On KJ Gray and Zane Campbell
“We haven’t made any exact announcements, as far as how we do a rotational thing right there, but those guys are playing very well. KJ Gray will be heavily involved right from the get go.”
“He’s played both sides for us and KJ has a very high football IQ. So we have been able to train him at two different spots, which has been really good. He adds versatility for us. He was a really, really good wide receiver in high school and so he has tremendous ball skills and range. The thing that jumps out about him is that he is a willing tackler and will get after it. That’s encouraging for him and he has earned the right to get some playing time.”
Can Kiy Hester Make A Jump This Season
“Kiy has had an exceptional camp. I keep using the term, high football IQ, but at that spot you have to have it. He does a great job of playing situations, of understanding ahead of time, which has allowed him to make plays for us in camp, because of his intelligence level. I’ve been very impressed with him.”
The Safeties As A Group
“We are a huge work in progress, but we are making strides.”
I wrote last weekend that the safety group will define how good the Rutgers secondary can be this season. With Hester and Hampton, they now have a lot of experience to combine with their talent. KJ Gray had his moments as a freshman and is an athletic, versatile player to mix in as well. Rutgers has three players in the back of the defense that have a chance to be a real strength this season.
In terms of the youth at the position, it’s most likely some of them will see time at special teams. However, guys like Jones and Lopez could see time in nickel and dime formations. The positive thing is that as long as the veterans stay healthy, there is time to get their feet wet without throwing them in the fire. That’s exactly what happened to Hester and Hampton early in their careers, but to their credit, they have grown and gotten better.
The safeties, coupled with the dynamic duo at the corners with Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin, could make it very difficult on opposing quarterbacks this season. Being able to produce takeaways and preventing big plays will be key to their success. After seeing the projected starters take their lumps as freshmen and start to show some promise as sophomores, there is a great chance they take a major step forward as a secondary this season.