Last week, our David Anderson gave a detailed preview of the defensive line group at the start of training camp. Today, D-line coach Shane Burnham spoke with the media and gave a lot of detail on the progress made through week two of camp so far. While head coach Chris Ash has talked a lot about forgetting the 2016 season and moving on from it, Burnham made it clear he learned a lot from it. He also seems motivated for his position group to show significant improvement on the field this season.
More Movement & Different Fronts Expected
With the departures of Julian Pinnix-Odrick, Darius Hamilton, and Quanzell Lambert, we knew there would be a new look on the defensive line this season. However, Burnham confirmed today that they will diversify their looks more so than last year. After playing three defensive ends at times last season, Burnham emphasized the need to change that and pack a punch at the point of attack.
“What I like about when I put the bigs in there is I have 305 (pounds) with Wilkins in the B gap, I have 305 with Sebastian at the nose and I have Jon at 295. I have a lot of lead in my pencil. Hopefully we can hunker down and make a nice picket fence there. I just like the size, that we are bigger. Those defensive ends at 250, when you are moving them inside, it’s only three feet, but it’s a whole different world in there at 250.”
“Getting those big bodies in there helps. Anytime you are a D-line coach and you finish 14th out of fourteen in the league, you take it personally. We’re trying to get bodies in there. I think what you will see is last year we played a lot of straight front. We didn’t move as much. I think you will see us move more this year and try to be more aggressive. If I'm not going to whip you, I might as well and use some of the movement as a curveball.”
Fans will remember this being a similar to when Greg Schiano was head coach and the defensive front was aggressive and constantly flashing different looks. Last season, the line was static and flat far too often. The reality is that Rutgers needs to continue to develop on the defensive line to compete against the top offensive lines in the Big Ten. However, it seems like a more creative approach and adding size could lead to progress this season.
Need To Establish More Depth
Along with the need to show more looks, Burnham touched on how important it is to establish more depth with the defensive line. He admitted to not doing a good job of developing options last season and being too reliant JPO and Hamilton.
"The snapshot is we did not do a good job of developing a two-deep at each position, a guy who can go out there and help. Last year we did not get that done. We’re trying to find the ability to play multiple guys at one position. That’s the only we can survive and be fresh. Last year, I wore the legs out of Darius Hamilton and JPO. Shame on me for not developing depth. We have to do a better job of that.”
This season, up to ten players could see time in different sets long the d-line, which would allow for many combinations that Burnham can rotate in and out. Based on his comments above, Sebastian Joseph, Kevin Wilkins, and Jon Bateky are slated to see a lot of action, giving Rutgers more Big Ten like size at the front of the defense. Burnham mentioned Eric Wiafe, Julius Turner and Will Previlon as well as players expected to contribute on the inside.
In terms of where pressure could come from on the ends, something that Rutgers generated little of last season, Burnham said:
“On the edge, we are working a little bit of Will Previlon, because he can give us something in the pass rush I think. And then we have Elorm (Lumor), Kemoko (Turay), Darnell (Davis), and Jimmy Hogan”
Overall, Burnham seems to be more comfortable with the depth within the unit this year, despite losing a lot of experience on the line. To be fair, there is still a long way to go in training camp and even then, he won’t really know what he has until the games begin.
“It’s hard to know because we are going against the same guys every day. They know what we do. We know what they do. It’s really hard to develop a real sense of confidence and certainty about who is going to show up on Saturday, but I do like what we’ve gotten so far. It’s not perfect by any means. It’s not even close to where I want to be, but I think I feel more comfortable playing more guys this year than I did at this point than I did last year.”
Kemoko Turay & Elorm Lumor Primed To Lead Pass Rush
As for Turay, Burnham talked about allowing him to stand up, instead of starting down in a three-point stance. This kind of flexibility demonstrates that the staff is better understanding how to get the most out of the personnel they have and playing to their strengths. Turay has embraced this change, according to Burnham.
“He loves it. They all think they are NFL stars like DeMarcus Ware. Put them on two feet. Every D-lineman in the country loves to play on two feet. They love that stuff.”
Burnham said Turay is “an every-down guy right now'' and praised his effort so far this spring, as well as in training camp. He also emphasized what Turay needs to improve on.
"He's been really good. The physical effort, taking care of his body has been good.I think if you give enough at-bats, he is going to get some hits. He's got to continue to develop in the run game. That's where he has to continue to come on. We know he can rush the passer. When he's rushing the passer, stay out of his way. In the run game, we've got to continue to coach him up.''
Burnham was also high on Lumor, who was moved to the edge after coming to Rutgers as a linebacker. His pass rushing ability has coach excited.
“Elorm Lumor can help. Those two guys (Lumor & Turay) can really run. What we lack, in my personal opinion, at some spots, is explosiveness to be dynamic up the field and get our hips through things and be loose. Some of those three hundred pounders, I like them in the run game, but those two guys are our best chance to win consistently on the edge.”
Burnham gave an update on four freshman that will not see game action this season. Mike Tverdov and Tijuan Mason are out for the year with injuries, none of which were specified. Both have a ton of potential, so it’s disappointing they will miss development time on the practice field this season.
"Those are the two guys that you thought could be the pass-rush guys. I was excited about them in the summer development program. Now they are both gone for the year."
Jaohne Duggan and Brendan Bordner, both defensive tackles, are being slated to redshirt.
"Bordner is about 280 right now. I don’t expect those two guys to help us. But I am excited about the size with Bordner and the explosiveness with Jaohne that he’s shown in camp.”
The defensive line is a major key this season, as stopping the run was the biggest issue last season. Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said last week that it was the number one priority, in terms of getting better defensively. Burnham has a lot of moving parts to work with this season and it will be interesting to see how he puts this group together. The seniors, as with any position, need to step up and lead on the field. However, there is a lot of potential from guys like Previlon, Turner and Lumor as well. Their development could be the difference in the defensive line taking a major step forward this season.
For Burnham’s entire press conference, video is below.