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Rutgers football position preview: Defensive backs

The Rutgers football team's roster features 18 defensive backs. – Photo by Kelly Carmack

Head coach Greg Schiano of the Rutgers football team held to his word, as the official roster was released on Monday.  Although the official depth chart isn’t out yet, Schiano said during a virtual press conference it would be available a week after the roster is released. 

Scarlet Knight fans can begin to get a glimpse into the team that will take the field Oct. 24 against Michigan State. 

One question that was cleared up by the official roster release was where transfer sophomore defensive back Peyton Powell would line up. The 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pounder transferred from Baylor, where he was listed as a quarterback. Powell de-committed from Texas before going to the Bears.

Powell finished his senior year at Odessa Permian with an 8-4 record along with 1,514 yards and 15 touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback. In the 40-yard dash, he clocked in at 4.45 seconds.

Joining Powell as a transfer is senior safety Brendon White, who spent his previous three years with Ohio State. Last year, he made at least three tackles in four games and was named Rose Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player after recording eight tackles, two being for a loss. 

True freshman cornerbacks Chris Long and Max Melton lined up at both wide receiver and on defense in high school. In their senior years of high school, Long had 44 tackles and seven interceptions and Melton was named a Press of Atlantic City First Team All-Star on defense.

Long originally committed to Temple. One of the reasons he flipped his commitment was secondary coach Fran Brown. In 2019, Brown was the co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach with the Owls. After Schiano hired Brown, Long followed his longtime mentor to the Banks. 

The familiarity with his coach isn’t the only reason Long changed his mind, though.

“Staying in New Jersey, representing your home state, it’s a big thing. Florida boys, they stay in Florida. Texas boys stay in Texas. Cali boys stay in Cali. We can’t have Jersey guys leaving Jersey,” Long said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “So I look forward to helping to turn that around.”

True freshman defensive back Elijuwan Mack played for running backs coach Augie Hoffmann at St. Joseph Regional and earned a spot on All-Bergen County First Team on defense by NJ Advance Media. 

Mack was a three-star recruit and had offers from Indiana as well as Boston College, according to

Rutgers lost three players to the transfer portal as well as former defensive back Donald Williams, who is not on the 2020 roster. 

Former safety Tim Barrow, now with Wagner, was second on the Knights with six pass breakups.

Junior strong safety Christian Izien will look to build on a highly productive season and fill in the gaps left by the departures. In 2019, he saw action in all 12 games and started seven while leading Rutgers’ secondary with 78 tackles. Izien set the team-high for tackles in four games and had at least 10 stops in a game twice. 

Joining him in all 12 games was junior cornerback Avery Young, where he posted 37 tackles, with a season-high of 11 against Boston College. Young also recorded five pass breakups and an interception. 

Young’s numbers decreased from his freshman year when he led the secondary with 66 tackles, as well as 10 pass breakups. Regardless, Young has remained an essential part of the defense as he has started 21 out of 24 games in his career with the Knights.

In senior cornerback Tre Avery’s first full season with Rutgers, he saw time in man-to-man coverage and made 17 tackles. Avery led the team with two interceptions as well as a forced fumble. 

On a coaching staff that is largely different from last year, defensive coordinator Robb Smith boasts familiarity with the Knights and Schiano. The pair coached together on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as several years during Schiano’s first stint with Rutgers.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.


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