2011 Rutgers Preview – Defense
Rutgers DT Scott Villone
Rutgers DT Scott Villone
Posted May 21, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knight Defense

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Rutgers Preview | 2011 Rutgers Offense
- 2011 Rutgers Defense | 2011 Rutgers Depth Chart
- Rutgers Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What you need to know: The Scarlet Knight defense isn't what it used to be. In order words, it's a microcosm for the entire program heading into 2011. One of the constants under Greg Schiano is that Rutgers was going to be feisty on D, taking no-name talent and churning it into one of the Big East stingiest units. However, everything changed last fall, when the team ranked last in the league in run defense, total defense, and sacks. Hope for a rapid turnaround is not very high. Yeah, there's a decent mix of talent, like DT Scott Vallone and linebackers Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene along the front seven, but who gets after the quarterback? Or bats away his passes? The Knights must replace three starters from a secondary that underachieved in 2010, and locate a pulse from the pass rush. It could be another difficult year for the defense, another disturbing sign that the program is mired in a funk.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Steve Beauharnais, 79
Sacks: Justin Francis, 2
Interceptions: Khaseem Greene, 3

Star of the defense: Junior DT Scott Vallone
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Ka'Lial Glaud
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Khaseem Greene
Best pro prospect: Junior LB Steve Beauharnais
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Vallone, 2) Beauharnais, 3) Greene
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, stripping the ball, third down defense
Weakness of the defense: The defensive line, sacks, pass defense, red zone D

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Now that three productive regulars, Alex Silvestro, Jonathan Freeny, and Charlie Noonan, have graduated, Rutgers will be forced to improvise in order to improve its front line depth. The program had all kinds of problems at the line of scrimmage, ranking last in Big East run defense and sacks, so maybe all of the change and infusion of new Knights won't be such a bad thing after all.

The line's mainstay at tackle is 6-3, 270-pound junior Scott Vallone, a third-year starter for the Scarlet Knights. No prototypical space-eater, he's quick off the snap and able to shoot the gap in order to make plays behind the line. He plays with the kind of blue-collar mentality that can be infectious to those around him, making 44 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He's a tone-setter and one of the emotional leaders of the entire D.

Bucking to join Vallone on the interior is 6-4, 252-pound sophomore Michael Larrow , who played six games as a rookie and made 10 tackles after Eric LeGrand was injured. He'll eventually add the weight needed to handle the inside, but will rely on his agility and flexibility to survive for now.

In order to address a glaring need at defensive end, the staff has promoted 6-4, 262-pound junior Justin Francis and shifted 6-3, 245-pound senior Manny Abreu over from outside linebacker. Francis will be the strongside option, with the potential to be the program's best pass rusher. In a reserve role a year ago, he posted 21 tackles, four stops for loss, and a pair of sacks. Is this the time that Abreu finally approaches the expectations that came with being one of the most decorated defensive recruits in school history? A terrific all-around athlete, who had 48 tackles and five stops for loss in 2010, he seemed to be making a smooth transition to a new position in the spring. Sophomore Jamil Merrell is one of a number of underclassmen looking to earn more snaps and make an impact early in his career.

Watch Out For .... Vallone to take on an even bigger role on the defense. Clearly the best defensive lineman in Piscataway, he figures to become even more of a leader now that the seniors are gone. He has the right make-up for the assignment, leading by example or getting in someone's face if it's called for.
Strength: Motors. The Knights won't always get their man, but it won't be because of a lack of effort. With Vallone setting the tone on the inside and Greg Schiano demanding nothing less, the linemen are going to scrap until the whistle blows and at times a little after that moment.
Weakness: Sacks. Almost non-existent when Rutgers had a seasoned front four, it's hard to imagine much change now that three new starters are being injected into the picture. After ranking 94th nationally in sacks and allowing more than four yards a carry, the Knights must do a better job of beating the block and getting penetration.
Outlook: Not only did the line underperform in 2010, but now it might actually get worse. Rutgers could sorely use two or three more players like Vallone, but that's merely wishful thinking. In reality, this is a pedestrian and painfully young defensive line that could get mauled by some of the Knights' more physical opponents.
Rating: 6


State of the Unit: The coaching staff likes its mix of talent at linebacker, an athletic group that brings back three players with starting experience and seniors to help fill the two-deep. Considering the play of the defensive line in 2010 and its anticipated struggles in 2011, the linebackers will be a busy group, filling running lanes and cleaning up plenty of messes.

Junior Steve Beauharnais has evolved into the leader of the unit and borderline all-star now that he's switching from middle to strongside. A physical 6-2, 230-pounder, he has the toughness to take on tight ends and the instincts to be a menace in opposing backfields. Back at the spot he excelled at as a rookie in 2009, he should improve on last year's numbers, 79 tackles, six stops for loss, and four fumble recoveries.

The big offseason development on the second level was the switch of 6-1, 215-pound junior Khaseem Greene from safety to weakside linebacker. One of the budding stars of the defense, he had 77 tackles, three interceptions, and four forced fumbles in his debut as a starter. Not only will he bring more explosiveness and coverage skills to the group, but he can lower his shoulders and deploy an airbag as effortlessly as any linebacker on this roster.

The newcomer of the starting lineup will be 6-2, 223-pound junior Ka'Lial Glaud , who's being asked to fill Beauharnais' shoes in the middle. It's a tall order for a Knight, who started just two games when Manny Abreu was injured and had 19 tackles. While he has the physical ability to play the position, he still has a lot to learn about reading offenses and calling out the defensive signals. Rutgers can take solace in the return of a couple of seniors, 6-2, 220-pound Marvin Booker and 6-1, 223-pound Edmond Laryea , who'll help provide experience to the second team. Both players are back from knee injuries, Laryea in his sixth year with the program.

Watch Out For .... the Greene experiment to work. Sure, he gives away a lot of weight for a linebacker, but he's the type of intense defender who's going to make plays no matter where he lines up. Now that he's moving up a level, it just means that he's closer to the action and more likely to be making plays in the backfield.
Strength: Range. A strength of the unit a year ago, that's even more so now that Greene is a part of it. All three of the projected starters will fly around the field, making plays for loss and excelling in coverage. This is an athletic trio of regulars that could be good for 200 tackles and 20 tackles for loss.
Weakness: The middle. The Scarlet Knights expect a lot from their middle man, asking him to be the quarterback of the linebackers and a force against the run. Glaud may be a junior, but in terms of overall reps and field time, he isn't quite as seasoned, a bona fide concern for this unit.
Outlook: This should be the heart and soul of the defense, a collection of athletic playmakers capable of delivering momentum-changing plays. While Glaud has plenty to prove in his expanded role, Beauharnais and Greene both have the skills and the potential to wind up the year on the All-Big East team.
Rating: 7


State of the Unit: A year after taking a predictable step in reverse, the Rutgers pass defense could be in even deeper trouble heading into 2011. Three starters are gone, two to graduation and one as an export to the linebackers. So concerned is the staff, it's decided to move a couple of skill position players over from offense in an attempt to bolster depth.

The closest thing to a sure-thing is 6-0, 196-pound senior David Rowe , who's making a move from starting cornerback to free safety. He had his moments a year ago, making 38 tackles and five stops for loss, but may have really found a home at his new spot. He has outstanding speed and the field awareness that comes with being a three-time letterwinner and veteran of 23 career starts.

Filling the rather large shoes of Joe Lefeged, last year's only all-star, at strong safety is 6-1, 198-pound junior Duron Harmon . It's a good thing that he's been viewed as the heir-apparent ever since signing to become a Scarlet Knight. A long and lean athlete, he started one game and made 21 tackles in 2010.

The two cornerback openings will be up for grab right until August. On one side, 6-0, 186-pound sophomore Logan Ryan is battling 6-2, 185-pound junior Marcus Cooper . Ryan is a terrific all-around athlete, though raw in coverage, starting one game and making nine tackles in 2010. Cooper is a bigger, more physical option, who also started a game last fall and had 16 stops. Over on the other side, it's come down to 5-10, 190-pound senior Mason Robinson and 6-1, 187-pound junior Brandon Jones . Robinson is a converted running back and one of the top athletes on either side of the ball. Jones has the length, but can get caught napping by quarterbacks. Used mostly on special teams, he had 11 tackles last year.

Watch Out For .... the outcomes at cornerbacks. While competition is a good thing, it could also be an indication that the staff isn't wowed by anyone. That could be the case right now at cornerback, where the coaches have been unable to differentiate between the four primary competitors.
Strength: The safeties. Relatively speaking, the safeties are going to be the strength of this defensive backfield. Rowe will wind up being a good fit at free safety, a role that might even earn him some looks from pro scouts. Harmon may be inexperienced, but he was being groomed for two years to succeed Lefeged.
Weakness: Pass defense. Pure and simple, Rutgers did a bad job of defending the pass in a league not rich with dynamite quarterbacks. And worse yet, after ranking 96th nationally in pass efficiency defense and picking off a Big East-low eight passes, the Knights could be even less equipped to stop the pass.
Outlook: The good news is that Rutgers won't face many top-notch quarterbacks this fall. The bad news is that that even has to enter the discussion. Unless someone from the quartet of corners surprises, the Scarlet Knights don't have a lockdown guy, which will surface from time to time in 2011.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Scarlet Knights had a somewhat awkward year on special teams that paralleled the program as a whole. They had punts blocked, field goals shanked, and coverage teams that yielded too many yards. In short, there's work to be done in the offseason, including finding a new punter to replace steady senior Teddy Dellaganna.

A degree of comfort can be found in the return for one final year of senior PK San San Te. His consistency, however, has been an issue ever since he arrived. Just 44-of-65 on field goals for his career, he's been especially erratic outside 40 yards and needs to do a better job of getting height on his kicks.

Replacing Dellaganna will be a true freshman, Anthony DiPaula, who already took part in spring drills. While he has considerable upside and almost no competition, he was erratic in the spring, getting too many of his punts blocked.

Handling punt returns once again will be senior Mason Robinson, who averaged 7.3 yards a year ago and took one back 60 yards against South Florida. Someone needs to supplant Joe Lefeged on kickoffs, a job that'll be handled by either sophomore Jeremy Deering or junior Mark Harrison .

Watch Out For .... head coach Greg Schiano to blow a gasket about this group throughout the fall. It had his blood boiling in March and April, making the usually even-keeled coach lose his cool in public on multiple occasions.
Strength: Te inside 40 yards. He's a well-traveled senior who's played in pressure situations and made clutch kicks as a Scarlet Knight. He's also been accurate in close range, nailing 12-of-13 field goal attempts inside 40 yards last season.
Weakness: Punting. Dellaganna was a veteran of the Big East and the JUCOs, making the drop-off in experience to DiPaula immense. The rookie benefitted from the 15 practices in spring, but still has a long way to go and is going to be a liability to the defense at times this season.
Outlook: Once again, the key is going to be Te, who'll have a chance to elevate a mediocre special teams unit to slightly above average. Punter will be an Achilles' heel and neither the return game nor the coverage units offer much pop. Problems will persist for this group throughout the 2011 season.
Rating: 6

- 2011 Rutgers Preview | 2011 Rutgers Offense
- 2011 Rutgers Defense | 2011 Rutgers Depth Chart
- Rutgers Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006