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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TOP 20: Proving it in Piscataway (No. 6)

Tejay Johnson, left, (shown during Rutgers' spring game) is the most obvious penciled-in starter this season in the back end. (AP Photo)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

Nearly a week remains until the start of Rutgers training camp. This top-20 countdown will run infrequently, documenting who's got the most to prove in 2013.

No. 6 — sophomore cornerback Tejay Johnson (6-foot-2, 205 pounds)

Why Johnson's on the list: Johnson is the most physically gifted of Rutgers' cornerbacks, part of a philosophy shift under former head coach Greg Schiano to recruit bigger defensive backs.

He's gotten the most career reps of any returner, which isn't necessarily a good thing. The Scarlet Knights' youth in the secondary is well documented. Only Lorenzo Waters returns, and he must still develop at safety.

There is little doubt Johnson can succeed. His high school track pedigree matches his size. He is articulate and knowledgeable, sprinkling references to Deion Sanders amid post-practice questions.

But his sample size at corner — a few second-half snaps Nov. 29 against Louisville — is small. Head coach Kyle Flood praised his work on special teams, but lining up against a No. 1 wideout remains another story.

Still, there are worse options to peg hope in.

During training camp, keep an eye on: Johnson's ball skills.

The third-year corner — he redshirted in 2011 after transferring from Fork Union (Va.) — has all the necessary tools to make plays with the ball in the air.

Rutgers is tasked with replacing Logan Ryan's seven
career interceptions. (AP Photo)
He possesses an explosive first step at the line of scrimmage and adds long arms and recovery speed. Johnson inherits a corner position known for ballhawking.

Brandon Jones and Logan Ryan combined for 14 interceptions the last two seasons, and Marcus Cooper notched one as a senior. 

They padded Rutgers' plus-10 turnover differential in 2012, No. 21 in the nation.

2013 season outlook: Barring any developments, Johnson becomes Rutgers' unquestioned top corner because of his intangibles.

The Knights' secondary undergoes its own growing pains, but Johnson should ease them during a transition season (in more ways than one).  As a whole, Rutgers' interception numbers should see a modest decline, while pass breakups — 55 in 2012 — remain relatively stable.

More from the countdown: No. 5 
  Paul Carrezola
No. 7 — Miles Shuler

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