Young cornerbacks learn from new coordinator in spring
Whether it was missing a tackle, reacting a step slow to a receiver or failing to turn the head around on deep throws, Rutgers football cornerbacks went through a nightmarish 2013 campaign.
The numbers are well documented at this point: a program-worst 4,056 passing yards allowed overall, including more than 400 in four different contests.
Throughout their AAC schedule, the Scarlet Knights were exposed defensively on the back end, and it was no secret why. Key graduations, injuries and off-field issues forced Rutgers to break in several true freshmen corners that lacked experience.
Talented rookies such as Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi had to adjust to the speed of the college game on the fly while also learning receiver tendencies and new defensive schemes.
Now with the benefit of offseason conditioning and spring practice for the first time, the secondary’s youth feels more prepared going into the Big Ten.
“I’m starting to learn how to trust myself and my technique, and trust what my coaches are telling me,” Barnwell, now a sophomore, said Saturday post-practice. “I’m learning route combinations and splits, so it’s definitely helping me and my game, and playing a little faster.”
That coaching starts with new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, who several Knights have raved about since he took the reins prior to the Dec. 28 Pinstripe Bowl.
After serving as special teams coordinator for two seasons, Rossi brings a new level of intensity and aggression, players say.
“We love Rossi. Rossi brings energy, he always brings a good attitude to attack the practice, attack the offense — just attack the ball,” Barnwell said. “We’re enjoying it and taking it day by day, trying to get better every day — whether it’s watching film or on the field just doing little things to get better.”
The intensity has manifested on the field with tighter coverages, different responsibilities and new terminology. Cioffi said the unit has placed a premium on studying how receivers chop their feet and break away from defenders.
Under former coordinator Dave Cohen, the Knights mostly opted to sag off receivers conservatively at the line of scrimmage. Linemen fell back into pass coverage to aid the ailing secondary, but few results materialized.
Rossi is placing a greater emphasis on generating a disruptive pass rush this season, which the secondary expects to help the back four.
“The d-line is doing a great job,” Cioffi said. “We have [Julian Pinnix-Odrick] back, Darius [Hamilton], Sebastian [Joseph], [Kenneth] Kirksey — we have a great d-line, and they’re going to help us out a lot.”
Head coach Kyle Flood announced that junior outside linebacker Quentin Gause is out for the remainder of spring practice with an undisclosed injury.
Listed as the starter at the strong side position in Rutgers’ pre-spring depth chart, Gause is one of six projected starters out through the April 26 Scarlet-White game.
He joins senior right tackle Taj Alexander, junior running back Paul James, junior tight end Tyler Kroft, sophomore defensive end Quanzell Lambert and sophomore wide receiver Ruhann Peele.
Gause’s absence means increased repetitions for 6-foot-5, 205-pound redshirt freshman linebacker Myles Nash, who Flood said has made some nice plays this spring in helping Rutgers build depth up front.
“Myles has got a great opportunity right now to play a lot of reps and run a lot of reps with the 1s and really show us what he can do,” Flood said.
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