With two stars in Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay, Rutgers enters the 2015 season with one of the top defensive lines in the Big Ten. And the Scarlet Knights will need the unit to be that good.
Concerns in the secondary and at linebacker (who will replace Kevin Snyder?) could all be forgotten if Hamilton, Turay & Co. can wreak havoc on a game-by-game basis.
Hamilton, who was named to the Bednarik Watch List, is the leader of the group. He earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors last year, recording six sacks and team-high 11.5 tackles for loss. At just 255 pounds, Hamilton uses his speed, rather than power, to beat opponents, but he has shown the strength to go toe-to-toe with bigger lineman. Because of his quickness, Hamilton is a nightmare in both the run and pass games.
The senior leader has also proved to be a playmaker when it matters most, like this stop on a 3rd-and-1 late in the win over Maryland.
The speed with which Hamilton moves down the line of scrimmage shows his freakish athleticism. But his physical gifts pale in comparison to those of his teammate, Kemoko Turay.
The legend of the Kemoko Dragon spread around the college football world last fall, as Turay swatted and sacked his way into Rutgers folklore. After a breakout year in 2014 in which he led the team in sacks with 7.5 and blocked a kick to give Rutgers one of its biggest wins in program history, Turay is primed to take the next step into becoming one of the conference's top defensive players. He's still raw and will have to become more technically-sound in order to be a consistent producer, but his combination of speed and power attracts the full attention of the opposing offense.
Just watch what he does when he's matched up against a tight end.
However, Hamilton and Turay aren't the only reasons for Rutgers fans to be excited about this unit. Experience and depth are two other reasons why the d-line is one of the B1G's best.
At the end position opposite of Turay, senior and two-year starter Djwany Mera will be the starter. Mera has started 26 consecutive games for the Knights, totaling four sacks over the past two seasons.
At nose tackle, sophomore Sebastian Joseph, who saw action last year as a backup, is the likely starter, but freshman Kevin Wilkins, who played alongside Hamilton in high school at Don Bosco Prep, could also see time.
Behind that, there is a ton of depth. Quanzell Lambert, who came to Rutgers as a 230-pound linebacker, has been in the mix at nose tackle and defensive tackle. Lambert has bulked up to 270 pounds and is an interchangeable piece with the ability to play multiple positions on the line. Jimmy Hogan and Myles Nash should see action as rotation pass rushers, while Julian Pinnix-Odrick gives the team another versatile, pass-rushing threat from the tackle position.
Another name to keep an eye on is true freshman Marques Ford. A four-star defensive end from Florida, Ford was the crown jewel of the 2015 recruiting class. He comes to Piscataway with a bit of motivation after having his scholarship pulled by Tennessee, his top choice coming out of high school.
The question isn't if this unit will be good, it will be how good. The old saying goes that games are won and lost in the trenches, and if this unit is as disruptive as they can be, then the Rutgers defense should see an improvement over last year's performance.