The defensive unit for the Scarlet Knights will see plenty of turnover in the middle but is there a chance that there is depth elsewhere?
The defensive line for Rutgers will need to be solid as the running back talent in the conference continues to improve. The battle in the trenches can win or lose games in the Big Ten. Head coach Greg Schiano is aware of this and is looking to create more depth.
“We’ll have our first four and they’ll go out there to start the game, unless we start in a three-man front,” Schiano said following practice on Monday. “Basically, we’re thinking of four guys. Coach Watson will substitute guys throughout the game. We feel really good with, I’d say 10 guys probably. I feel like they know it. You might lose something here but you’ll gain a little something here.”
The Scarlet Knights have lost the likes of Mike Tverdov and Julius Turner from last year, which means there will have to be some new names to step up. Ifeanyi Maijeh transferred in last season and was unable to get comfortable right away.
This time around, Maijeh will be able to go through camp and be ready for the season.
“It’s been great to have him in camp,” Schiano said. “If you remember, he missed all of camp last year so that’s going to serve him really well. I don’t think Ifeanyi got to play his level of football until midseason. Im hoping that he enters the season at that level so let’s keep our fingers crossed.”
Mayan Ahanotu and Aaron Lewis will also be relied on heavily. The Scarlet Knights added Jahzion Harris to the mix as a transfer this offseason as well.
“We’re gonna roll a lot of guys. I leave that up to Coach Watson,” Schiano said. “Number one, he has a plan for the whole game to make sure that in the fourth quarter, we can rush the passer. Or in the fourth quarter, we can stop the run and get the ball back. Depending on how the game is going.”
The secondary might be the strongest part of the defense for Rutgers this season. Max Melton solidified himself as a No. 1 corner while Avery Young and Christian Izien return to the safety positions.
“The secondary is playing pretty well,” Schiano said. “They had some contested balls and they didn’t make the play on the contested balls but that will come. I judge it as are you in the right place and do you have your vision in the right place? It’s all about eyes back there. If your eyes are in the right place, your ability will take over.”
In 2021, Kess Abraham took major steps forward in the secondary. He played in every game, making 12 starts at cornerback, and finished with 44 tackles. He is a key to this defense for the upcoming season opposite Melton.
“He did make strides,” Schiano said of Abraham. “He’s gonna be part of the rotation at corner. What we’d love to do is rotate guys and keep them fresh. Because what’re you doing during games? Unless you play zone defense, which we do at times, you’re chasing people the whole game. Really fast guys so we like to rotate. If you don’t have that depth, you can’t. Right now we do, which is a blessing.”