The 2012 defense was raided by NFL teams last season, and that means some fresh new faces will be on the field this year. Two of RFootball's best, Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais, leave a gaping hole in the linebacker corps, while the secondary has just one returning player with experience. Today, let's break down some of the true freshman that have a chance to break the two-deep:
- Candidates: Eric Wiafe (DE), Kemoko Turay (DE), Josh Klecko (DT), Sebastian Joseph (DT)
On paper, none of the defensive line recruits seem to be a lock for playing time in 2013. While Coach Panagos did lose ironman Scott Vallone and troubled TE/DE Mike Larrow, the defensive line has the chance to be the strength of the defense this year. DT Darius Hamilton is set to take over Vallone's spot, and several possibilities remain for the other tackle position: Ike Holmes, Jamil Pollard, and Al Page all have the experience and talent to become a force in the middle. Julian Pinnix-Odrick also garnered some rave reviews this past spring.
At defensive end, Jamil Merrell should retain his spot as a double-team magnet on the outside. Listed as a preseason All-AAC first-team DE by Athlon, Merrell should be able to improve upon his 5.5 sack total from a year ago. Marcus Thompson anchors the other DE spot, and his experience should keep him as the starter. For depth, Myles Jackson and Max Issaka can spell the DEs for third down plays (David Milewski was recovering from an injury as well), and DT has plenty of bodies.
- Candidates: Lester Liston, Nick Internicola, Myles Nash (ATH), T.J. Taylor (ATH), Devan Carter (RB)
In theory, the LB unit should be just fine in 2013, with senior Jamal Merrell
holding his spot at the SAM, and Kevin Snyder inheriting the WILL position from Greene. While Snyder was never a regular starter, he is a seasoned veteran in the Rutgers linebacker system, and has contributed a lot in many games (his performance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Iowa State was superb). The top-ranked 2012 class had elite skill at LB as well, with Quanzell Lambert
and Steve Longa bringing four-star talent to the lineup. As of this past spring, Longa appears ready to take the role of starting MLB. Depth is where the freshman can make an impact, as well as get ready for the B1G since Snyder could possibly declare for the NFL Draft
(unlikely IMO) and Merrell is a senior. Quentin Gause
is the only other player with substantial experience, and he did seem to make strides in the spring, but after him, the quality appears to drop.
The 2013 recruiting class really only has two true LB commits. Lester Liston is an early-enrollee and had the benefit of participating in spring practices and received good reviews from coaches. Look for him to make the two-deep behind Snyder or Merrell. Nick Internicola is also a solid prospect that has a chance to get playing time. The remaining candidates are athletes and may not even be LBs after fall camp is over. Myles Nash is 6'5", 205 lbs. and could bulk up to play DE. T.J. Taylor was recruited as a DB, but with his speed and 6'3" frame, he could make a Khaseem Greene-like transition to weakside LB. Devan Carter is set to play RB, but he has a big body as well at 6'3", and could be moved to defense
- Candidates: Nadir Barnwell (CB), Delon Stephenson (CB), Anthony Cioffi (CB), Bryant Gross-Amiento (S), Myles Nash (ATH), T.J. Taylor (ATH)
After losing four players from the 2012 secondary to the NFL, this season's defensive backfield definitely looks to be quite green. Redshirt senior Lorenzo Waters
is the only player that brings viable experience to the unit, as wide receiver-turned-safety Jeremy Deering
is currently running on pure talent. The starting cornerback positions are big, fat question marks. While the 2011 secondary was similar in terms of returning starters and still gave opposing QBs fits, that unit did have some returning two-deep talent. It's entirely possible that this year, two freshman will make some starts for the Knights.
Edit: SCAR transfer Sheldon Royster is eligible starting this fall. He will have two years of playing eligibility. Royster has a good chance to start at cornerback.
There is some non-freshmen talent on hand. Ian Thomas seems to be making a very smooth transition from wideout and could be a starter at corner by the time fall camp finishes. Other candidates are Johnathan Aiken
, Gareef Glashen
, and Tejay Johnson. Jevon Tyree and Davon Jacobs
round out the possibilities. However, two the most talented recruits from the 2013 class also play in the defensive backfield.
Consensus four-star recruit Nadir Barnwell from down the road at Piscataway H.S. enrolled in January to participate in spring practices, and he has the talent and athleticism to start at corner from day one. His roommate, Delon Stephenson, is also highly ranked and could become a key cog in the Scarlet Knights' secondary. Rutgers seems to have a penchant for turning out solid defensive backs, which makes sense considering Schiano's pedigree as a defensive coach. While the secondary could be somewhat green, the history is there to give me confidence that the unit will not be a liability in 2013.
How do you see the true freshmen fitting in to this year's team? Did I leave anyone out? Leave your comments/criticisms below.
Next up, we'll look at which freshmen have a chance on offense.