With training camp set to begin on August 2nd, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season for Rutgers football. One of those reasons is the improved depth of the roster heading into Chris Ash’s third season as head coach. Unfortunately, the defensive depth took a hit this week, as Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media reported on Wednesday morning that safety K.J. Gray and linebacker Brendan DeVera were dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules.
Breaking: Rutgers linebacker Brendan DeVera and safety K.J. Gray dismissed from football team, according to a person with knowledge of situation. Both were expected to play key roles in 2018 https://t.co/4KP1g0pGgK #rutgers— Keith Sargeant (@KSargeantNJ) July 11, 2018
The loss of Gray is significant, as the junior played in 20 games over the past two seasons and started four contests in 2017 at free safety. He led the secondary with 58 tackles last season and had two interceptions. Gray was slated to start alongside Saquan Hampton at the back of the defense this fall.
DeVera came to Rutgers as a fullback, but switched over to the defense at linebacker and played in 11 games last season as a true freshman. His brother, Tyler, committed to the program last month as part of the 2019 recruiting class. It will be interesting to see if he ultimately joins the program or not.
Head coach Chris Ash has now dismissed five players due to a violation of team rules in his two plus years on the job. They include quarterback Tylin Oden, wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell and Dacoven Bailey, as well as now Gray and Devera.
In regard to depth at secondary in the wake of Gray’s departure at free safety, there is no experienced backup to step up. The good news is that safeties coach and co-Defensive Coordinator Noah Joseph is a veteran assistant who is equipped to handle this situation. His relationship with Ash over the years ensures he will be on the same page in terms of what is needed from this position. Players with an opportunity to step up include Kobe Marfo, Larry Stevens, Naijee Jones, Edwin “Tank” Lopez, and Tim Barrow. Perhaps the staff will move another player to safety during training camp as well. Damon Hayes could be considered as well, potentially moving from cornerback. Regardless, it now stands as a key position battle to watch for next month.
At linebacker, there is still solid depth, despite the loss of Devera, who had a chance to make the two deep this fall. Starters Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts return, as does 2016 starter Tyreek Maddox-Williams, who missed all of last year with an injury. In addition, former 4-star recruit Tyshon Fogg and Olakunle Fatukasi figure to play larger roles this season as well. A newcomer that could step up is JUCO transfer Malik Dixon, who played in the secondary previously but at 6’4” and 215 pounds, he has the frame to move to linebacker. Other players looking to make the two deep at linebacker include Rashawn Battle, Austin Rosa, and Izaia Bullock.
Overall, it’s never good news when players get dismissed. Ultimately, its a shame that these two young men wasted the opportunity they had as student-athletes at Rutgers. Whatever the violation of team rules was, you have to credit Ash for making the decision to place the culture of the program above all else. That was sorely lacking during the Kyle Flood era and we all saw the disaster that resulted. Ash has proven time and again that no one player is above the program and while it’s disappointing to see the depth of the defense take a hit before training camp even began, it makes sense. This is why player development is so important for Rutgers football to continue making forward progress this season and beyond. Next man up is certainly the case here after the dismissal of two players expected to make significant contributions on the defense this fall.
Update: On Thursday night, it was reported that multiple players are under police investigation for credit card fraud. Read more here.