When the Scarlet Knights take the field in September, they will be down two key defensive players, as KJ Gray and Brendan DeVera were released from the team, Keith Sargent from NJ Advance Media reported earlier this week. Gray and DeVera are the latest of five players who have been removed by head coach Chris Ash from the program in the last fifteen months.
KJ Gray, a junior defensive back, was expected to be a vital part of the defense for the Scarlet Knights in 2018. Gray saw game action in ten games with four starts at safety in 2017, where he registered 58 tackles with three for a loss.
The loss of Gray is tough as Rutgers now has very little depth among the defensive backs. Behind starter Saquan Hampton, the Scarlet Knights do not have another experienced safety. With training camp starting up with in just over two weeks, safety has become an intense position battle to watch.
Some players capable of filling Gray’s role this fall are Kobe Marfo and Larry Stevens.
As true freshman in 2017, DeVera registered two tackles in eleven games as a member of the offensive line and on special teams. Despite the loss of Devera, Ash has more depth at linebacker than he has in past years. Returning for the Knights will be 2017 starters Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts as well as 2016 starter Tyreek Maddox-Williams.
Morris returns after starting in all twelve games in 2017, where he recorded 118 tackles, while Roberts brings 104 tackles back from his twelve starts in 2017. Maddox-Williams missed all of last season with an ACL injury, but has impressive stats from 2016 including 20 unassisted tackles in six starts. While Ash will certainly miss the depth DeVera brought to the Scarlet Knights, there are plenty of young players who can fill his spot, including Tyshon Fogg, who recorded 18 tackles in only six games.
These dismissals, including the three other dismissals in the last 15 months, sends a strong message from the coaching staff. Ash inherited a messy program, both on and off the field, and has shown both the team and the media that he will not let players act the way they did in previous eras.
Rutgers fans want wins, and to do so Ash needs to change the culture on and off the field. Changing the culture is a long, exhausting process that does not come without a few casualties. While it might seem cruel from the outside, and is never something that anyone involved with the team looks forward to, Ash is sending a message that he wants his team to be taking seriously.
Ash, more than anyone, wants his team to make bowl games and contend with the big dogs in the Big Ten. In order to do so, Ash needs players who are ready to play and who are willing to play by his rules. He made that very clear this week.