Moving our way towards the trenches, next up are the linebackers. For 2014, The Knights lose veteran backer Jamal Merrell, but the unit actually returns three legitimate starters in Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder, and Quentin Gause. The first-team group might not have any questions heading into game one against Washington State, but the second-team is an entirely different story. Rutgers loses two promising young players, and another key reserve had some trouble with the pre-camp conditioning test. Here's how the current depth chart looks through a couple weeks of camp:
Training Camp Depth Chart
GP is career number, rest are for 2013 season
|Kevin Snyder||MLB||6'3", 235||Sr.||39||71||7.5||2||3||0||0|
|Steve Longa||WLB||6'1", 225||R-So.||13||87||7.5||3||4||2||0|
|Quentin Gause||SLB||6'1", 220||R-Jr.||25||40||8.5||1||1||0||0|
|L.J. Liston||LB||6'2", 235||So.||12||11.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Myles Nash||LB||6'5", 225||R-Fr.|
|T.J. Taylor||LB||6'3", 200||R-Fr.|
|Brandon Russell||LB||6'1", 210||Fr.|
The three starters in Snyder, Longa, and Gause are an experienced trio and each brings a unique benefit to the unit. Snyder is the veteran of the group and learned under the former backers Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais, and Jamal Merrell. He's perfect for his new role at the Mike position. Longa is extremely gifted athletically, as you saw last season when he was making plays sideline-to-sideline against spread offenses. He'll fit nicely at the Will much in the same way Greene did in 2012. Finally, Gause is a player who has garnered most improved spring defensive player multiple times throughout his career, so he is poised to have a truly breakout season after backing up Jamal Merrell last year.
Originally, there looked to be some great young talent waiting in the wings at the linebacker position. However, Coach Kyle Flood received some disappointing news this offseason. Two freshmen linebackers, Justin Nelson and Sidney Gopre, will not be joining the team for the 2014 season. Justin Nelson, who was also getting a look at the 'R' defensive end position, did not qualify academically and will be going the JUCO route. Sidney Gopre had trouble with academic issues as well, although he's scheduled to enroll at Rutgers in January. That leaves L.J. Liston, who spent most of his time on special teams last season before failing the pre-camp conditioning test earlier this summer, and two redshirt freshmen as the lead reserves for 2014. Linebacker is all of a sudden an area of great concern regarding health and injury.
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There is a lot of potential for the Scarlet Knights to be one of the best in the B1G at linebacker - if they can stay healthy. The reserve situation is so in flux, that an injury could really devastate not only the unit, but the entire defense. Camp still has a few weeks left, so let's hope that a young defender emerges from the freshman ranks.