I wrote about Kessawn Abraham helping preserve the Illinois win a couple weeks ago. Now, it is Robert Longerbeam’s turn to bask in the New Jersey sunshine. Coming into the season, I think most of us were familiar with Christian Izien, Tre Avery and Avery Young in the defensive backfield, along with the promise of 2nd year player Max Melton and incoming grad transfers Christian Braswell from Temple and Patrice Rene from UNC.
As we have seen in the B1G, the best laid plans of mice and coaches don’t always work out. Braswell underwent season-ending knee surgery this past summer, Renee missed the first 3 games and has only played in 4 of 10 overall, and Max Melton was suspended for 3 games earlier in the season. That left Young and Avery as the last experienced corners standing. Those of you who know me on the game threads, certainly know how I feel about Tre’s play this season. Re-watch the 1st half against MSU and try to imagine where I might have said an expletive or two.
Typically, this lack of depth in the secondary leads to disaster. We’ve seen it at Rutgers before - throwing inexperienced players into the fire and watching them learn, struggle, and fail on the fly, giving up ten yards of cushion to keep the ball in front of them. Imagine my delight watching the Indiana game as Matt Millen raved about RU’s tight coverage. Indiana had one pass completion of note of 46 yards in a day where they struggled mightily to find open receivers.
This brings me to Mr. Longerbeam, the 2nd-year, 5’11” 170 lb WR-converted-to-DB from Alexandria, VA. He saw action in 5 games as a true freshman, playing most of the game in the win over Maryland in College Park last fall. This past spring, Longerbeam returned to practice and won the Frank R. Burns Award, given to the player who displays extraordinary mental and physical toughness during spring practice. Here’s what Schiano had to say about Longerbeam winning the award:
“Robert just really gutted through a painful injury that he had and then you know, couldn’t do it any more, so he got — he got surgery and he’s going to be ready for camp. But he really exhibited every day coming to practice, working hard, fighting through it, and I thought he really personified what that award is meant to be.”
This season, Longerbeam has started to fill up the stat sheet. In 10 games of action, he’s made 17 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, and has 7 pass breakups, including 4 at Northwestern back in October and 2 against Indy this past Saturday. The 7 breakups are tied with Abraham and Avery for 1st on the team. Here’s a replay of the strip tackle against Indiana along with some comedic relief from Matt Millen.
Originally recruited as a WR, Longerbeam made the position switch to DB early in his Scarlet career as a true freshman, telling Bobby Deren of 247Sports in an interview this past summer:
“It was more that we needed depth. With our coach and our players on defense, it was an easy transition for me. The leaders took over and helped me learn the playbook, so it was an easy transition.”
With Robert’s father being the head football coach at his high school, T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Longerbeam is certainly used to the pressure of meeting high expectations. He had this to say about coach Schiano in the same interview:
“With coach Schiano, it’s like he can always give you a pointer anytime and he is always available,” Longerbeam said. “He is a great head coach to have. He can dip in any room. It is really a blessing having him and coach Fran [Brown] balancing off each other. It really helps us.”
As I watched RU curb stomp Indiana on Saturday and listened to color announcer Millen single out Longerbeam for his coverage and tackling, and the secondary as a whole for their tight coverage, I had to smile. I expected immense struggles from this group after the early season injuries and then when Max Melton was suspended, I thought the floodgates would open in B1G play for opposing receivers. A great deal of credit is due to Fran Brown and the defensive coaching staff for developing these young players. Robert Longerbeam heads to Happy Valley this Saturday, along with a promising young core in the secondary that includes Max Melton and Alijah Clark. I’m excited to see how they perform against WR Jahan Dotson and the Nittany Lions with a bowl appearance on the line.