June 25, 2018 | ° F

Spring offers secondary shot to improve

Photo by Tian Li |

Sophomore cornerback Nadir Barnwell said he enjoys playing in Joe Rossi’s defense because of the aggression they play with.

What does a defense, whose secondary allowed a school record 4,056 passing yards this past season, do to improve entering the Big Ten?

It aims to makes changes in the back four during spring practice.

The Rutgers football team will use this time to improve a secondary that was widely inexperienced a season ago.

After former player Lew Toler broke his arm before the Louisville game, sophomore Ian Thomas left to pursue a baseball career and freshman Nadir Barnwell missed a game with suspension, the secondary was in shambles.

Following yesterday’s first spring session, the secondary made its first step demonstrating competition in practice.

The battle for starting spots in the secondary is vital for head coach Kyle Flood.

“I expect a great competition at corner,” Flood said Monday at the pre-spring press conference. “Even though we don’t have as much experience as we would like to have, it’s not that we have a group that doesn’t have any, which is a little bit of what we had last year. I think their opportunity for their learning curve to go up will be high this spring.”

Barnwell was a part of the carousel at cornerback and gained valuable experience. The Piscataway native appeared in 12 games for the Scarlet Knights, starting in four.

Small adjustments and getting acclimated to playing college football will make this year easier for the underclassmen, Barnwell said.

“[The game experience] will help a lot. I finally got the atmosphere of the stadium and played, so I got used to the speed of the game and got used to it,” Barnwell said. “I’m more comfortable. I learned the technique in real-life situations against someone in a different jersey. That definitely helps a lot going into this season.”

With the strong safety position locked up with third-year starter Lorenzo Waters coming back for his final year of eligibility, there is still a vacancy at the free safety position.

Sophomore Davon Jacobs is among those competing for the spot.

Jacobs played the majority of last season at outside linebacker, and now has converted back to the original position he was recruited for.

The opportunity arose after he had a conversation with the coaches.

“I feel like it’s not that hard because I learned safety in my redshirt freshman year. I also played safety in high school,” Jacobs said. “I was asked in the offseason what position I wanted to play: linebacker or safety. I told my coaches I wanted to play safety, but if they need me at linebacker, I’ll play linebacker.”

While more additions and players stepping up in the secondary are necessary, the addition of new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi has the defense fired up and excited.

The secondary is especially thrilled for the new chances and mindset presented by the different regime.

Under Rossi, more opportunities for big plays are possible, said Barnwell.

“I love coach Rossi because he brings a whole new energy to the defense and a whole new attitude,” Barnwell said. “It’s really aggressive and we go for the ball, attack the ball and are always swarming. He has an emphasis on swarming. Our defense is definitely taking a turn.”

While it may seem like a daunting task to have such a young secondary, Waters does not see an issue.

The Accokeek, Md., native thinks last year’s game experience will improve the youth at defensive back.

“It was rough on them last year, being thrown into the fire like that,” Waters said. “But now it’s helped us a lot now that they can just go in, since they are used to the speed of the game, and they know what to expect now heading into the season.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

By Tyler Karalewich

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