The Rutgers Football season will kick off on Sunday, Sept. 3 at SHI Stadium against Northwestern. Leading up to the season opener, we will be taking a look at each position on the field for the Scarlet Knights.
The series continues with a strength on the defensive side of the ball — the defensive line.
Position Coach: Marquise Watson
Key Returners: Aaron Lewis, Mayan Ahanotu, Kyonte Hamilton, Kenny Fletcher, Jordan Thompson
Key Losses: Ifeanyi Maijeh
Key Newcomers: Isaiah Iton
Why to be excited: Depth is returning
Marquise Watson and his group of lineman return for what could be another strong year for the defense.
Aaron Lewis headlines a quartet of returners who played significant time last season. Lewis is gaining plenty of steam this offseason and is expected to be one of the top defensive lineman in the Big Ten. on the other side, Wesley Bailey made an impact as well. The duo combined for five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2022.
On the interior, both Mayan Ahanotu and Kyonte Hamilton played significant roles along the line. This now includes Ole Miss transfer Isaiah Iton as well, who joined the program over the summer.
There is carryover for the Scarlet Knights on the defensive side of the ball and the line is the first of three units. If Lewis can take the next step into elite territory, this will help the entire line, especially if he faces double teams. The big bodies in the middle helped slow down the run game of opponents.
Watson led a strong group last season and with many returning, the Scarlet Knights are hoping that it continues to get even better.
Improvement Needed: Get to the quarterback
As good as the defensive line was, it struggled to get to the quarterback. Rutgers finished 12th in the Big Ten with 20 sacks in its 12 games.
The Scarlet Knights were able to apply pressure at times but could not finish the play. This is where the emergence of Lewis and others will come into play. Also, Rutgers is getting back some key pieces at the linebacker position.
Mohamed Toure led Rutgers in sacks in both 2020 and 2021 before suffering an injury last season. The Scarlet Knights will also get a boost with Moses Walker returning in the middle of the defense. All in all, these factors point to more than 20 sacks this season for Rutgers.
Pressure is good to keep the quarterback off track but he has to get hit every now and then. Expect Rutgers to dial it up a bit more this season and try to get to the opposing quarterback.
There are improvements that need to be made for Rutgers, in terms of getting to the quarterback, but much of the defensive line is returning. This was a strong unit last year and could be event better this year if the good players become stars. Of course, Lewis is at the top of this list. The defense as a whole for Rutgers should be strong and this is the first of three units that can be improved.
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