Secondary struggles with tackling issues
Ian Thomas had no idea the Rutgers football team’s secondary allowed Eastern Michigan quarterback Tyler Benz to throw for 335 yards last Saturday.
He was more concerned about the final score.
“I actually didn’t know he threw for 300 yards,” said the redshirt freshman cornerback. “As long as they don’t score, that’s all that matters at the end of the day. So we held them to 10 points and got the W.”
Thomas did admit to one thing the Scarlet Knights need improvement in.
“Open-field tackling,” Thomas said. “It’s difficult. You really have to know your technique and know how you’re going to bring down the ball carrier.”
The Knights’ secondary has struggled bringing down opponents in three games this season, and the problem was prevalent in Rutgers’ 28-10 victory against the Eagles.
On Eastern Michigan’s only scoring drive, Thomas was unable to finish a tackle on wide receiver Dustin Creel. The seemingly short passing play turned into a 31-yard gain thanks to the mistake.
On the next play, sophomore free safety Tejay Johnson completely missed bringing down wide receiver Ryan Brumfield, which resulted in a 43-yard touchdown reception.
Though head coach Kyle Flood acknowledged tackling could improve from all three defensive units, he knows it has been more of a problem from the secondary.
“I think the positions that have been challenged for us are on the perimeter,” Flood said. “It’s that corner position and they have been challenged in the first couple of games. Have I seen the improvement in practice? I have. But we need to see the improvement on game day. That’s ultimately where they’re going to be judged.”
Part of the problem could lie in the group’s inexperience.
Junior strong safety Lorenzo Waters and Johnson are the only secondary members with experience before this season. Senior free safety Jeremy Deering is still adjusting to his change from wide receiver in bowl practices and an injury sustained against Eastern Michigan. And Johnson, Thomas, junior cornerback Gareef Glashen and senior cornerback Lew Toler all are adjusting to their first shot at significant playing time for Rutgers.
Toler, a senior transfer from Western Michigan, also dealt with learning a new system under defensive coordinator Dave Cohen.
Three games into the season, the New Castle, Del., native said he has adjusted well.
“The system, I’m definitely more comfortable, just knowing exactly what I’m supposed to do, communicating with the safeties and the whole defense,” he said. “I’m just a lot more comfortable.”
Though comfortable, Toler also understands improvement can be made with open-field tackling.
“We’ve been working on tackling all week,” Toler said. “It’s preached every day, so we’re constantly working on our tackling each and every day.”
Rutgers’ next assignment is to bring down Arkansas’ offense, a unit which ranks 11th in the country in rushing offense and likes to keep the ball on the ground.
Toler admits the miscues can be frustrating at times, but also believes improvement is on the way.
“It can be, but it’s something you have to do to get better,” Toler said of the frustration improving tackling. “We just have to keep working hard at it and everything will come together.”