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Rutgers defensive scheme will stay the same this season



Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers football head coach Greg Schiano met with the media after the first practice of training camp on Thursday. One question entering this season was whether the defensive depth would dictate a change in scheme. Under Schiano and defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak, the RU defense typically plays five defensive backs.

The Scarlet Knights lost two mainstays in multi-year starters at safety in Christian Izien and Avery Young. Both graduated and are in NFL camps this summer. So is Christian Braswell, who played a big role last season in the back and was the lone Rutgers player drafted in April.

In addition, Rutgers has improved depth at linebacker. After playing starters Deion Jennings and Tyreem Powell almost exclusively last season, two key players are back from injury. Mohammed Toure, who led RU in sacks both in 2020 and 2021, returns after a season ending torn ACL injury last August. Former 4-star recruit Moses Walker suffered the same fate and is deemed healthy at the start of training camp. He has the potential to be one of several breakout players on defense this season.

Regardless of the personnel changes, Schiano made it clear that he has a lot of confidence in the secondary and no change in scheme is expected.

“We have (Minnesota transfer) Flip Dixon, and he has really shown me that he’s a Big Ten safety,” Schiano said. “You know our deal is we’re a five defensive back scheme as long as people are playing with three of four wideouts. You can call it 4-2-5 or whatever you want to call it. I just call it five defensive backs on the field.”

He added, “So that’s the trick, finding the right mix of our best five then having the subs to come in, outside corners, inside nickels, inside starters. There are different jobs. Coach Harasymiak, he does a really good with personnel and things.”

It’s a logical formation with the spread offense so prevalent in college football currently. Most teams, even in the Big Ten, typically line up with three receivers. Rutgers does have Max Melton, Robert Longerbeam and Kessawn Abraham returning at cornerback. All three have extensive experience and provided solid play in previous seasons. In addition, transfers Eric Rogers (Northern Illinois) and Thomas Amankwaa (Akron) will compete for playing time as well.

At safety, Desmond Igbinuson played well last season but also dealt with an injury. He’s expected to play a key role in the back of the defense with Dixon.

As for a third safety, Shaquan Loyal could emerge. Schiano praised his potential after practice.

“He’s a really good player. He just needs experience.” explained Schiano. “He’s explosive, understands the game and has great hand-eye coordination. He has it all.”

Improving depth and talent is obviously a key for any team to be able to take a step forward. The Rutgers defense made strides last season, but hopes to be even better this season. While the secondary has holes to fill, Schiano believes it can be a strength this season. As for linebacker, Toure is a hybrid player who can play a more traditional EDGE role along the defensive line. Walker will also provide depth behind Powell and Jennings.

As for the team overall, Schiano was confident on the first day of training camp.

“It’s the strongest team we’ve ever had here going forward,” Schiano said of the physical development put in this offseason. “They worked really hard this summer, and it showed.”

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