By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 13, 2014) – As Rutgers’ position players moved from one drill station to the next during practice today – something they do by rote now – there was one straggler among the cornerbacks who constantly paused and waited to see where his fellow position players were headed as he followed behind them.
Justin Goodwin, the Scarlet Knights’ backup tailback, suddenly found himself on a crash course trying to learn cornerback, after meeting with coach Kyle Flood in the morning to discuss a position switch necessitated by another injury.
It’s the first time Goodwin – a key contributor on offense as a true freshman last year – has been on defense since his days at Madison (N.J.) High School.
“Just follow the lead so I know what I’m doing,” Goodwin said of trying not to look too lost.
With true freshman cornerback Dre Boggs out indefinitely with a lower body injury, Flood turned to Goodwin to plug a hole in a secondary still searching for the right cornerback combination. Boggs, arguably the most impressive freshman in preseason camp is “going to be down for a little bit” due to the injury, according to Flood.
“Looking at the depth (at cornerback) I didn’t feel we had enough,” Flood said. “When you look at the different options on our football team I think Justin is as good as any. I spoke to him this morning and I said to him `Listen, I know you have really spent you whole career at running back and if you stay on offense you’re going to play a lot for us. So it’s really not even about that.’ I said `but if you go over to defense and it works out you might play the whole game and I think we’ll be a better football team because of it.’
“And he said `coach, whatever is the best thing for the football team I’ll do.’ I said `all right, let’s try this for a couple of days and we’ll see how comfortable you look and see how it goes and then we’ll make a decision.’ ”
Goodwin, who bulked up 20 pounds to 200 this summer, was Rutgers’ second-leading rusher last season with 521 yards. He accounted for six touchdowns.
Flood wouldn’t rule out playing Goodwin both ways, as he did a year ago with Ruhann Peele, who moved from wide receiver to plug a hole at cornerback and played both positions in a game.
“I would say the same thing about him that I said about Ruhann last year: I would not be opposed to playing him both ways,” said Flood. “Justin is a very smart football player and he’s certainly not going to forget what he’s learned on offense.
“With the whole offensive package being in can really learn the intricacies of the game plans as we need him so he can always be there if we need him in an emergency role.”
The move, Goodwin said, caught him off guard.
“At first I was kind of surprised, but whatever he needs me to do to help the team out I’m willing to do,” he said, adding that “(the move) felt a little uncomfortable but I’m going to have to adjust and get to work.”
Safety Delon Stephenson, who was pressed into emergency cornerback service as a true freshman last year, sees no reason why Goodwin won’t adapt to his new position.
“He’s played defense before in high school, so that should help him,” Stephenson said. “It’s not like he has only played offense, because that would mean he has probably never tackled anyone.
“But he was good when he played defense in high school. There was a decision in his freshman year whether he was going to play running back or corner. So he’ll be fine.”
Flood said the position switch would hold at least through Saturday’s second and final scrimmage.
“I don’t that. It might be,” Flood said when asked if Goodwin’s move was permanent. “After one day it might be tough to say that. I watched a little bit of it just to see how he looked. I liked what I saw. I didn’t watch the whole thing. We’ll go back and look at it on film.
“Now we’ll coach him and see how much better he gets over the next couple of days but we’re going to keep it through the scrimmage (on Saturday) and then go from there.”