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January 20, 2014

The Monday Morning Kickoff

It's a busy time in Piscataway with lots to talk about in the world of Rutgers sports. The Monday Morning Kickoff begins another new week with everything you need to know in the scarlet nation.

A view from the gridiron (Rutgers Football)
Rutgers remains on the hunt for a new offensive and defensive coordinator as news broke last week of Ron Prince being called upon to join the Detroit Lions staff as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach. That leaves Rutgers with two coordinator openings as Dave Cohen was relieved of his duties Dec 9th.

Robb Smith continues to be the leading candidate for the defensive coordinator position but things took a twist last week when he received an opportunity to join the Arkansas staff. Smith was also on Rutgers' campus last week and is still in the process of finalizing a decision. Another name that continues to emerge as a top candidate is Frank Spaziani who would be considered the favorite should Smith opt for a spot at Arkansas.

Interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi is also in the running, although doesn't seem to be the favorite as of now. Rob Vanderlinden also interviewed for the vacancy but doesn't seem to be atop the list of candidates. Without either coordinator in place, other schools have been trying to steal away Rutgers' commits as visitations to prospects' schools and homes continue.

Early last week, there was also an emerging chance of Jeff Hafley returning to Rutgers. But that quickly faded when he was offered a defensive assistant position with the Buffalo Bills which he accepted.

On the football field, Antwan Lowery wrapped up his week at the East West Shrine game on Saturday. Multiple reports out of St. Petersburg cited Lowery as having a good week of practice. Lowery was an an All-Big East first-team selection in 2012 but did not start a game this past season.

Last week also marked the return of two players for the 2014 season. Kaleb Johnson decided not to enter the 2014 NFL Draft and will return for his final season as a Scarlet Knight.

"After speaking to my family and Coach Flood, it was in my best interest to return to Rutgers for my senior season," said Johnson, who has started 37 straight games. "Academically, I will be in position to graduate next spring, which was an important goal when I committed to play at Rutgers. When reviewing all the options to stay or head to the NFL, my heart was to finish what I started with my family here at Rutgers."

A couple of days later, Rutgers announced that cornerback Ian Thomas will return to the team on a conditional basis after quitting mid season.

"I have learned a lot from the whole experience and was able to grow personally, spiritually and mentally," Thomas said in a statement released by Rutgers communications. "I made a commitment to the Rutgers football program and the right thing to do is to finish my commitment. I am very grateful to Coach Flood and my teammates for welcoming me back to the team."

As always, stay logged onto Scarlet Nation's The Round Table for all the latest tidbits, updates and insight on RU football.

The inside scoop (Rutgers recruiting)
Yesterday began with bad news for Rutgers fans when Orlando (Fla.) Orangewood Christian cornerback Waynedriko Smith, flipped his commitment from the Scarlet Knights to the Hoosiers at the conclusions of an official visit to Bloomington.

"Done with the recruiting process #IU #Family #HoosierFootball," Smith tweeted.

Smith committed to the Scarlet Knights in early December after an official visit to Piscataway, and the Rutgers staff visited him at school on Friday. His flip is another blow dealt to the 2014 recruiting class, which has now suffered nine de-commitments.

Later in the afternoon, word began to spread that 4-star Manalapan receiver and Rutgers commit Saeed Blacknall was on campus at Penn State for an unofficial visit. Scarlet Nation was able to confirm that Blacknall indeed made the trip.

Blacknall now holds an offer from the Nittany Lions and new PSU head coach James Franklin and his staff have been pushing the wideout hard. Rutgers has fought hard to keep Blacknall, with two assistant coaches spending over four hours with him on an in-home visit Saturday night, but at this point, he is at least listening to the Nittany Lions' overtures.

Blacknall is scheduled to take his official visit to Rutgers this weekend, but it is unclear at this time if his plans have changed. Stick with Scarlet Nation for all the latest on Blacknall's recruitment.

Lastly, Rutgers is getting a last-minute push for the services of Avon (Ct.) Old Farms cornerback Andre Boggs from future Big Ten foe Wisconsin. The Badgers offered Boggs over the weekend and Scarlet Nation was told they are trying hard to get the RU commit to officially visit.

Boggs officially visited Rutgers in December and was originally slated to enroll at RU early but could not for academic reasons. He told Scarlet Nation earlier in the month that he was considering taking visits before signing day.

During last week, Boggs said he had no visits planned, but with the Badgers pushing him, his situation bears watching over the next couple of weeks. As always, Scarlet Nation will have any new developments on Boggs' recruitment.

In positive news, running back commitment Robert Martin continues to work his way back from the ACL injury that cost him his senior season. The Harrisburg (Pa.) product has been back running for a couple of weeks and anticipates being fully cleared this summer in time for training camp.

"Everything has been going good," Martin said. "I've been getting stronger, getting my speed back. I lift before rehab and then do my rehab. When I don't rehab, I run and get on the bike.

"I've been back running like two weeks. I'm not going full speed yet, but I've been jogging and going a little faster than that."

Martin will be on his official visit this coming weekend.

"I'm looking forward to meeting some of my future teammates and talking with the coaching staff," he said. "I want to see the area. I also want to talk to some of the doctors and get some pointers on my knee, and what I can be doing to help it."

The take from center court (Rutgers basketball)
The Scarlet Knights split a pair of games last week, winning at home over UCF on Wednesday by the score of 85-75, with junior guard Myles Mack (25 points) scoring his 1,000th-point in the first half.

Mack became the first Scarlet Knight since Quincy Douby in 2005-06 to hit the 1,000-point mark as a junior.

"Beginning of the game I guess I was just thinking about it too much, that's why I didn't come out too strong," Mack said. "But I got it off my mind after those four points. I came out and gave it my all in the second half. I think it was just a little bit of anxiousness in the first half."

Rutgers followed up Wednesday's victory with a 77-55 loss at Houston on Sunday afternoon, as 31 percent shooting and a 22-3 Cougar second-half run doomed them.

"I thought our offense needed some stimulation," head coach Eddie Jordan said post-game. "Obviously we're always talking about how our defense has to get better but we had to get some juice."

Mack scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in defeat. Now 8-10 overall and 2-3 in league play, Rutgers takes on SMU on the road Tuesday at 8 p.m

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