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Rutgers Football: Is this defensive line actually good now?

If not, Is there a significant chance of reaching its potential?

Northwestern v Rutgers
Previlon is the most experienced defensive lineman at RU, shown here recording a safety on a quarterback sack.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

The Rutgers defensive line has seen a lot of changes in the past few weeks and we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the depth chart. In addition we always get a lot of questions about alignment, usually 3-4 or 4-3 related, as well. Since I played defensive line (albeit in sprint football also known as lightweight), these are all discussion topics I possess very strong opinions about.

To recap the current state of the position group personnel:

Defensive Line returnees: Willington Previlon, Manny Taylor, Elorm Lumor, Julius Turner, Jaohne Duggan, Brendan Bordner, Mike Tverdov, Tijaun Mason (missed 2018 due to injury), Matt Thomas, Jamree Kromah, Robin Jutwreten

Additions: Corey Bolds (JUCO formerly at Penn State), Micah Clark (from offense), Malachi Burby (early enrollee), (Rayyan Buell + Devin Baldwin in summer); Ron Johnson (transferring from Michigan, link here).

Losses: Kevin Wilkins (graduation), Jon Bateky (graduation), Muhammed Wainwright (graduation)

As is true for most teams, most of these Rutgers defensive linemen individually project best somewhere between strong-end and defensive tackle (not nose guard). Why is this? Simple, because elite nose guards have elite size and elite edge rushers (jack in the Rutgers scheme) have elite burst. Hence trying to get guys to put on weight to bump closer to the ball.

A lot of Rutgers fans who recall how successful the Scarlet Knights were in 2011 when Greg Schiano changed the positions of what felt like half the defensive players to make the team “faster” are still heavily biased. And though it’s not as easy to do now, in previous versions of Madden it was easy to take a player of any position and move him to one where guys are typically slower then just put more weight on him. This is much less effective in practice, even though Kenny Parker is a better than average strength coach. Some human beings have joints, tendons, and ligaments that can handle more weight. Others don’t and become ineffective or injury prone.

We are not at practice, so we don’t know who is showing what, but I see Johnson and Tverdov as better run defenders than Lumor and Mason who are better at pass rushing. So trying to play to those strengths would be the first domino here. The second is whether anyone can step up and be a good defensive tackle, thus allowing Previlon to play some snaps at nose guard and rest Julius Turner. There’s a number of candidates here including but not limited to Bordner, Duggan, Clark, Bolds, Taylor, Thomas, or even early enrollee Burby. The second part is whether Rutgers can put teams in passing situations, so then they can use their extra DEs as interior linemen, Tverdov and Johnson. Then maybe even get a boost from CJ Onyechi or Nihym Anderson at the jack occasionally, though they currently practice at linebacker.

So what are the impacts of these changes to the defensive line and does this mean the group is no longer the team’s second biggest weakness? The best way to look at this is a best, most likely, and worst case scenario.

Worst case scenario

Of course injuries depleting the group would compromise all of the potentially added depth. Specifically an injury to Previlon would be killer because none of the new faces is good enough to play even 40% of the snaps: Bolds, Clark, or Johnson who all turn out to be four-star busts. Bordner becomes tweener Jimmy Hogan 2.0 and none of the freshmen or sophomores take the next step. Lumor never regains the step he showed in early 2018 moving him to strong side end and the jack position is manned by the losers of the linebacker two-deep battles. (pun semi-intended)

As a team, Rutgers never forces another team to pass and therefore the interior line eventually wears out. None of the defensive tackles is an elite enough run defender to stop the bleeding and we see games like Wisconsin and Northwestern 2018 again. The run defense is so bad anyway that teams have no need to throw the ball.

Most likely scenario

Though it takes a few games to get back to game speed regularly, Johnson is the most talented defensive end on the team specifically in the run game and significantly less effective at tackle, so the staff elects to have a large rotation at the end spots including Johnson, Lumor, Tverdov, and Mason. Turner (nose guard) and Previlon (defensive tackle) start and get spelled by a number of guys including Bordner, Duggan, Thomas, and either Jutwreten or Kromah. Offenses run right at the defensive ends to tire them out forcing the deep rotation to be needed. Bolds and Clark start showing some flashes by midseason, and one of the redshirt freshmen or sophomores makes a nice jump like Tverdov last year.

Rutgers is in a few close games in the fourth quarter so opponents who prefer passing the ball will take to the air. Rutgers will manage to win one of those games because an unheralded guy, Bordner or Kromah being the most likely, make a huge sack after the opponent tries to fool RU with play action. The opponents that prefer running will wear the Knights down and those contests will come down to whether RU can get a stop to keep them out of field goal range. Rutgers offense does manage to help them win one shootout for the first time in four years because of two opportunistic turnovers forced by the D.

Best case scenario

Johnson is able to maintain the quickness and be a disruptive force at defensive tackle. Then either Bolds or Clark is good enough to be a next man up without significant drop off. This allows for a Turner/Previlon platoon during the first three quarters of games at nose which keeps offenses off balance because of their opposite skillsets for the position. Everyone has improved somewhat year over year so the true freshmen can take a redshirt. Kromah, Thomas, and Jutwreten can grab a few snaps each game to advance their development and relieve the veterans. Mason and Lumor can regularly beat their opponent one on one so linebacker like CJ Onyechi and Nihym Anderson are not needed at the jack position.

As a team, the Knights offense scores points while it eats some clock so Rutgers nurses a few leads in the second half forcing opponents to many obvious passing situations. This gives opportunity for Tverdov and Johnson to play inside at their best playing weight so if the opponent does reach the red zone, Turner and Previlon can both re-enter the lineup as bigger bodies with fresher legs.

What are your thoughts?


How many more wins will the offseason defensive line additions add in 2019?

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  • 14%
    (59 votes)
  • 31%
    (133 votes)
  • 37%
    (156 votes)
  • 16%
    Three or more
    (68 votes)
416 votes total Vote Now