Without a doubt the linebackers will experience the most turnover of any position group on the team. Gone to the NFL are star outside linebackers Quentin Gause and Steve Longa. Senior middle linebacker Kaiwan Lewis spent the final year of his collgiate career with the Scarlet Knights and will leave a hole in the middle of the defense. Rutgers needs to replace all three starters from last year, which is not an easy task, especially given the lack of depth in this group.
The good news is Rutgers has two early enrollees at linebacker, Jon Pollock and Solomon Manning. Manning is a versatile outside linebacker who can be a tackle machine, similar to Steve Longa. Pollock was the leader of the recruiting class and will play in the middle for the Scarlet Knights, and is expected to contribute right away. Isaiah Johnson barely lost out to Lewis for the starting MLB spot and will return for what will be his senior year. Regardless, this is no easy task for Jay Niemann, who will also be in charge of the whole defense as defensive coordinator.
Fr Jon Pollock
Fr Solomon Manning
Sr Isaiah Johnson
RS-Jr TJ Taylor
So Deonte Roberts
RS-Sr Kevin Marquez
RS-Jr Devan Carter
RS-Fr Austin Rosa
RS-So Eric Margolis
RS-So Brandon Russell
So Trevor Morris
This unit is filled with inexperience, as there is only one combined start between all of them which is Deonte Roberts' start against Army when Steve Longa was injured. Kevin Marquez is the most experienced but has never really played in game situations as a linebacker. Deonte Roberts has the most game experience at linebacker and he was a true freshman forced into action last year. It will be very interesting to see who rises from the ashes in this group.
There are endless question marks at both outside linebacker positions. When Steve Longa or Quentin Gause missed any time, the defense was screwed. Deonte Roberts was decent in his limited role, but no one on the roster was even close to as good as Longa or Gause. That is not simply a knock on the quality of players but also a testament to how valuable those two were for this team. TJ Taylor is a guy to look out for to become a starter. In 2014 he was named the most improved defensive player during Spring practice. He contributed in all 13 games in 2014 but suffered a torn ACL last Spring. He has spent plenty of time around the program and with two open spots could be primed to earn one of them if he stays healthy and continues his excellent work ethic. One more player in contention is Deonte Roberts, who was the primary backup last year and got a start against Army along with having a four tackle performance against Michigan. Look for him to build on his true freshman campaign this year.
This job is pretty much Isaiah Johnson's to lose, as he held it all through Spring last year, only to be outworked by Kaiwan Lewis in fall camp. He will be a senior and came to Rutgers last year after two years of impressive play at the JUCO level in San Francisco. He will be pushed by incoming freshman Jon Pollock, who will without a doubt give Johnson everything he has. Pollock being an EE is huge since there is no one else on the roster behind Johnson. Believe me, Johnson does not have the job locked up and will definitely have to work for it. Pollock is very versatile and instinctive. His only knock coming out of high school was that he was just around 6-feet tall, although that won't affect the way he plays at all. This will be an exciting position to watch.
The worst quality of this group in 2015 was their inability to play pass defense. Kaiwan Lewis was comical in coverage and was gifted with both of his interceptions. He was incredibly slow and stiff and was a one-dimensional linebacker. Steve Longa was a little better, but not by much. He was a tackle machine who could never really take the next stop in rounding out his overall game. Quentin Gause wasn't terrible, but Joe Rossi pretty much tortured him by making him run all over the field for every play of the game and he was always playing on empty. Rutgers will start recruiting much more elite athletes with better size/speed combinations to keep up with the improving offenses in the B1G. Pass coverage is an area that needs to be immediately addressed.
Position Prediction (2-Deep)
SLB: Deonte Roberts // Eric Margolis
MLB: Isaiah Johnson // Jon Pollock
WLB: TJ Taylor // Kevin Marquez
Tomorrow: #10Strong Spring Preview | Cornerbacks