As Rutgers opened training camp on Friday, depth on the defensive side of the ball was at the top of the list of concerns heading into the 2018 season. The program announced earlier this week in this Keith Sargeant report that six players that are a part of the ongoing credit card fraud investigation are being held out of training camp for now and are not listed on the roster. All six are defensive players and three are in the secondary. This came after projected starting safety K.J. Gray was dismissed from the team when news of the investigation spread. Although the Rutgers secondary has very good front line talent with Blessuan Austin, Isaiah Wharton, and Tre Avery at cornerback, as well as Saquon Hampton, Damon Hayes and the recently returned Kiy Hester at the safety spots, there is a lot of unproven players backing them up.
In a surprise twist, training camp opened with an unexpected player on the field for Rutgers, as 3-star defensive back Zamir Mickens practiced with the team on Friday and is listed on the roster for this season.
Mickens was a part of the 2018 recruiting class, but didn’t sign and was set to enroll at Milford Academy in the fall, with the plan to enroll at Rutgers in January, per prior reports regarding his intentions. Ash told the media contingent after practice that the plan changed because of depth concerns due to the investigation began:
“That was the original plan, for him to go to Milford Academy. Obviously, we had some issues that came up and changed our roster. To do what was in the best interest of our football team, we needed to get another body into camp. That’s really how it came about.”
Ash indicated Mickens will be on scholarship this season, although no explanation was given.
Getting Mickens started with the program now has both short and long term implications. Adding the 5’11” safety from St. Peter’s Prep gives the Rutgers defense another player in the back that can provide a much needed additional body this season. It will likely depend on the health of the players in front of him in regard to how much game action he sees in the secondary. However, Mickens could be a useful special teams player, a unit that is also has depth issues due to the multiple players being held out of camp. And any experience he gets on the field with the Rutgers defense this season will be valuable for him. In the long term, Mickens will benefit from playing behind the veterans in the secondary in practice every day. If he can be a sponge and put in the work, he will grow as a player and there will be an opportunity for him to make the two deep next season with so many departures in the senior laden secondary. His development has a chance to be kick started by being on the roster this season, rather than not getting going until next spring’s camp.
Here is his junior highlight tape, as no senior tape was available.