UPDATE: Mike Tverdov and Tijaun Mason are now listed as out for the season with injuries. Myles Nash has been moved back to offense.
With practices for the fall season underway, we continue positional previews with the Scarlet Knights 2017 defensive line. For a detailed review of the unit last season, click here. This comes on the heels of defensive coordinator Jay Niemann discussing that Myles Nash has switched back to defense. All of the players listed as defensive linemen will be reviewed in turn by jersey number, followed by the group of true freshmen.
#7 Elorm Lumor (6’3”, 245 lbs.) Redshirt Freshman
Lumor came in as Ash’s first flip (from Temple) as a tweener linebacker / defensive end. Even with Turay returning to full speed, the Knights still have no certain pass rush. Lumor could find himself as a situational pass rusher because he is not big or good enough yet against the run. He moved around well in the spring game but wasn’t getting a good burst off the line. He might benefit from the staff potentially using more 3-4 fronts where he can stand up rather than have his hand on the ground at the snap.
#12 Myles Nash (6’5”, 257 lbs.) Redshirt Senior
The linebacker, turned defensive end, turned tight end, is now back at defensive end. He is is a B1G player somewhere on the field, but time is running out. A high prospect from the Timber Creek pipeline, signing him was a no brainer. Injuries and ending up in so many different meeting rooms have hindered his development. His 2016 contribution was in the pass rush package, which RU never seemed to be in, because they were always losing and therefore rarely faced obvious passing situations. Perhaps with the injury to Tyreek Maddox-Williams, coach Niemann will decide to play more sub-packages and Nash will finally break through.
#14 Solomon Manning (6’1”, 241 lbs.) Redshirt Freshman
The then linebacker enrolled early in 2016 at only around 200 pounds and was thought to maybe get some action in a depleted linebacking corps. Instead the Colonia, N.J. native didn’t see the field, hopefully not to burn his redshirt, and was moved to defensive end in the spring, while putting on muscle. With Nash back on defense, I’m not sure where he will crack the rotation, but the talent seems to be there. If not 2017, 2018 will present more opportunities.
#50 Julius Turner (6’0”, 282 lbs.) Redshirt Freshman
Turner was one of the five guys who improved his stock the most in the spring game. Defensive linemen take some time to develop, especially when they are only two-star recruits. Thickly built and low to the ground, Turner appears to be able to generate good leverage and able to deliver a quick blow like the one in the clip below. I thought he was a year away, but his spring game performance and the maturity the coaching staff has seen from him, he could be ready in 2017, a year earlier than anticipated.
#51 Sebastian Joseph (6’4”, 305 lbs.) Redshirt Senior
While Joseph was one of the lower ranked recruits in his class, he has been a two year starter. He NEEDS to step up in 2017 and should feel more comfortable doing so having seen Lambert, Hamilton, and JPO all graduate. He’s strong and hopefully a second year in the same defensive scheme will allow him to cause more disruption on the field (1 sack in 2016?). The staff acknowledged him by his participation in Big Ten media day.
#58 Kemoko Turay (6’5”, 252 lbs.) Redshirt Senior
Turay hadn’t played a down of varsity High School football until his senior year. Yet, in the history of Rutgers football, no player may have ever less predictably come out of nowhere to be one of players (if not the MVP) of his first career game. Subsequently, it’s been a lot of stops and starts. Sacks, blocked kicks, and the general mayhem he creates when a team knows they need to pass, make the Kemoko Dragon the biggest X-factor for the defense in 2017. He also has a brother who is in demand on the recruiting trail, so a solid performance couldn’t hurt!
#59 Darnell Davis Jr. (6’2”, 247 lbs.) Redshirt Senior
A former walk-on, Davis earned a starting job after Quanzell Lambert went down last season against Iowa. He statistically exceeded expectations and secured a 75 yard fumble return against Indiana that was at least a 10 point swing to give RU the lead. He will be pushed by some younger guys behind him, but there is always a place on any team for Davis, especially if they employ a mixed set of 4-3 and 3-4 fronts.
#92 Eric Wiafe (6’5”, 290 lbs.) Redshirt Junior
Wiafe initally committed a year earlier, but grayshirted out of Egg Harbor, N.J.. He has been a special teams contributor already. In games where a team might be trying to run out the clock on the ground, we should see Eric in there making it difficult. He might be THAT guy on this defense where all of a sudden when given game opportunities, he just performs significantly better than in practice.
#93 Jason Griggs (6’1”, 282 lbs.) Redshirt Freshman
Griggs, from Highland Park, occupied a ton of space in the spring game. His listed weight seems very low to me. As the only walk-on DL currently on the roster, perhaps he will get a lot better with all the reps on the scout team. And we know at Rutgers, at least in the past, you can go from scout team to starting in two weeks! More seriously, defensive line is perhaps the hardest position to project long term. Guys like Damon “Snacks” Harrison can become stars in the NFL seemingly out of nowhere. No one expects Jason to be that guy, but it’s entirely possible he contributes at the Division I college level in time.
#95 Jon Bateky (6’3”, 300 lbs.) Junior
The only member of this unit not to redshirt, the Maryland native saw action as true freshman with Hamilton out in 2015. Jon will try to hold off Kevin Wilkins as the starter at defensive tackle, but his career trajectory so far seems promising. The question with him is the same as the entire unit, how much havoc can he wreak in the opposing backfield?
#96 Willington Previlon (6’5”, 290 lbs.) Redshirt Sophomore
Previlon was a nice pickup as a top 40 recruit and is now up to 290 pounds. When a smaller B1G program tries to emulate a program like Michigan State, this is the type of guy they always seem to have making plays later in his career. He has received little buzz so far, but could erupt.
#98 Jimmy Hogan (6’4”, 265 lbs.) Redshirt Junior
Hogan came to Rutgers as guy with all the northeast offers and a huge motor. Like many of the 2014 recruiting class, he contributed as a redshirt freshman out of necessity. His versatility inside and outside may give him a boost in 2017, as Rutgers plans to throw many different looks at opponents. His spring game performance was less inspiring than I anticipated, but maybe that’s because I have always been high on him.
NOTE: Despite being from the same high school (Ramapo, Franklin Lakes N.J.), he is not the brother of Chris Hogan.
#99 Kevin Wilkins (6’2’, 306 lbs.) Redshirt Junior
Avid readers of the site know how much I have been waiting on Wilkins to be a monster on the line. This is a B1G player. Initially recruited as an offensive guard, it has to be a good thing that the staff have kept him on the defensive line his entire career since. Against Nebraska in 2015, he flashed the athleticism not usually seen on the interior line. The last two staffs have never doubted his physical skills, so hopefully something clicks in 2017 and he becomes a B1G star, literally.
#53 Brandon Bordner (6’4”, 280 lbs.)
Bordner was highly hyped with a huge offer list out of Ohio. He took all the late drama of his recruiting out by enrolling early and got a ton of time in the spring game. He seemed a little gassed, but what can you expect when he put on 40 pounds in about 3 months? The hope is he can use his long arms to create space and be a difference maker off the edge. Best case, Joey Bosa Jr. Worst case, Jimmy Hogan, which is not bad at all.
#57 Jaohne Duggan (6’1”, 292 lbs.)
Duggan was a surprise offeree at camp last year, but everyone who saw him seemed to think he was the best interior lineman there. Rutgers defense always plays the best when they have energy, often coming from a short of stature defensive tackle. Duggan could be that guy. Perhaps he could even be a goal line fullback? Just a thought.
#91 Tijaun Mason (6’5”, 225 lbs.)
Mason has been compared to Kemoko Turay because of his body type and late development in high school. It’s unlikely he plays in 2017, but is the heir apparent to Turay in virtually every way. I would not want to be lining up as a Texas State Bobcat quarterback on opening day 2018 and seeing an athletic freak like him on the other side when I know I have to pass.
#97 Mike Tverdov (6’4”, 252 lbs.)
Pete Mike Tverdov (might as well get that out of the way) is yet another top state recruit (#29) and followed in his brother’s footsteps out of Union, New Jersey. Like Bordner (and his brother previously) he could end up all over the defensive line with high upside and not too much downside. The team’s pride has been hurt the last two years and now having a guy like him who bleeds Scarlet is a great thing. He is relentless at the point of attack and maybe just what the team needs in practice and in front of a large home crowd.
Personnel: Joseph is a returning starter. Davis started the second half of the season and should be out there plenty. Turay is a former starter who struggled when returning from injury in 2016, so if healthy, which he reportedly is, he will be in there as much as possible. Wilkins and Bateky have started and shown upside on the interior. Hogan has played a lot of football in game situations. Wiafe should be stout against the run, if nothing else. The opportunity exists to have as many as 8 or 9 guys in the rotation, plus situational players. Coach Burnham acknowledged that he played his experienced seniors a little too much in 2016, so expect more fresh legs this year. Pair and a spare!
Scheme: Rutgers played a 4-3 stack in 2016 almost exclusively. If your linebackers are good, this protects them and allows for them to make a lot of big plays. If your linebackers are inexperienced, it just makes it easier for offenses to block your D-linemen. The combination of RU mixing in 3-4 fronts, including the jumbo, should keep offenses a little more off balance. If the team overall can stay competitive later in games, there will be more passing situations to allow the defensive line to all out pass rush.
Long term outlook: With a full group of incoming linemen, it would be ideal for the program and the players’ development to be able to redshirt all four true freshmen. However, with this unit’s struggles a year ago, the staff will not hesitate to play anyone who can be disruptive in the passing game. Early playing time was dangled in recruitment, but the year of growth is more important on the lines than any other position group. Bordner excited the fan base when he signed more than the other three, but is clearly still learning, based on his spring game performance. We will see how much progress these newcomers have made during training camp, which will ultimately determine their usage this season.
The position group has upside, so Rutgers fans can have hope going into the season, despite the departures of Julian Pinnix-Odrick, Darius Hamilton, and Quanzell Lambert. If the offense can stay on the field more often, this group could surprise. I leave you with the image that was worth a thousand words when it happened and maybe a different thousand, less than three years later.