2012 Rutgers Preview – Defense
Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knight Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What you need to know: Rutgers is getting talked about as a strong contender for its first-ever Big East crown in large part because the defense is good. Real good. Only two starters are gone, neither of whom was among the three Scarlet Knights to appear on the 2011 All-Big East team. Under former head coach Greg Schiano, the program had a personality rooted in physical toughness and solid fundamentals. The new regime under Kyle Flood will be preaching the same principles. DT Scott Vallone is the leader of the D-line—if not the entire defense—but Rutgers really needs an end or two to step up and ignite the pass rush from the edge. The linebackers will be without holes, provided all-star Khaseem Greene can make it all the way back from injury. He was a revelation in his first year after shifting from safety, but broke his leg in December's Pinstripe Bowl, and did not participate in spring drills. Throwing on the Knights ought to be just as difficult as it was a year ago, when they allowed eight touchdown passes all year, and none in the final four games. Returning all-stars CB Logan Ryan and FS Duron Harmon are the linchpins of the defensive backfield. Ryan is just a junior, but is talented enough to be tempted to turn pro early at the end of the season.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Khaseem Greene
Tackles: Khaseem Greene, 141
Sacks: Steve Beauharnais, 5
Interceptions: Duron Harmon, 5
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Michael Larrow
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Lorenzo Waters
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Logan Ryan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Greene, 2) Ryan, 3) Senior LB Steve Beauharnais
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, pass defense, generating pressure, third-down D, red-zone D, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: The ends, stuffing the run
The D-line is looking to rebound from the graduation of two key starters, Justin Francis and Manny Abreu, with senior DT Scott Vallone acting as the foreman. The 6-3, 275-pounder is the rock up front for the Scarlet Knights, a fourth-year starter who plays with an infectious amount of drive and intensity. He has started 38 consecutive games, testament to his durability, always bringing great quickness and fundamentals to the interior of the line. Vallone not only requires multiple blockers, but also racked up 58 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries a year ago.
Backing up Vallone is experienced junior Jamil Merrell , a starter in six games last season. However, if the undersized 6-4, 255-pound wants to earn more reps, he'll need to increase his modest 2011 production of 18 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and a sack.
The Knights' other starting tackle will be junior Isaac Holmes , for whom the light finally appears to have gone on. The 6-3, 275-pound former heralded recruit has had a quiet start to his career, and has yet to start a game, but played his way into the starting lineup with his best spring with the program.
Both defensive end positions will be decided in the summer. On one side, it'll be the battle of the juniors, 6-4, 270-pound Michael Larrow and 6-2, 260-pound Marcus Thompson . Larrow has an ideal combination of size and athleticism that the program is looking for at the position. He had started five of last year's first six games, making 10 stops, before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Thompson filled in, starting a pair of games, but has yet to do enough to shake free from the more gifted Larrow.
At rush end, the two seniors in the hunt are 6-2, 240-pound Ka'Lial Glaud and 6-2, 240-pound Marvin Booker , both former linebackers. Glaud has adjusted well so far, improving his moves, and getting more accustomed to having his hand in the dirt. A year ago, he had 20 tackles, four behind the line and two sacks as a backup. Booker has always had the requisite skills to make plays, but has struggled throughout his career to stay healthy.
Watch Out For .... the impact of true freshman Darius Hamilton , arguably the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Rutgers. The five-star defensive end can unleash unstoppable moves, and operates with high energy at all times. It's almost inconceivable that he won't be in the rotation at some point in the year.
Strength: Great motors. The Scarlet Knights won't always get the man with the ball, but it won't be because of a lack of effort. With Vallone setting the tone on the inside and the staff demanding nothing less than 100% at all times, the linemen are going to scrap until the whistle blows, and at times a little after that moment.
Weakness: Outside pressure. When Rutgers was collapsing the pocket in 2011, it was often the result of the tackles or one of the linebackers. The ends were too quiet, and that was when Abreu was still around. Now that he has graduated, the Knights need some combination of Larrow, Thompson, Glaud and Booker to develop into steady playmakers.
Outlook: Blue-collar. Workmanlike. Vintage Rutgers D-line. Vallone is the face of this group, which makes sense since he exemplifies a lot of what's made the Scarlet Knights defense so underrated over the years. However, he's going to need a lot more help in the trenches. Even if Hamilton explodes out of the gate, the program needs a few of its upperclassmen to deliver career years.
The Rutgers linebackers are going to be fantastic in 2012, especially if 6-1, 235-pound senior Khaseem Greene shows no ill-effects from the leg injury he suffered in the Pinstripe Bowl. He did not participate in spring drills, but is expected to be ready to go in the summer. A hard-hitting safety before last season, he made a seamless transition to linebacker, racking up a Big East-best 141 tackles, 14 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He's explosive when tracking down the man with the ball, and will light up opponents when he arrives. Greene is also a tone-setter of the D, leading by example on the field, in the locker room and in the weight room.
In the middle will be senior Steve Beauharnais, a regular in the lineup since his true freshman season of 2009. He's a physical and heady defender, with the right demeanor and intangibles for the inside. The 6-2, 235-pounder began to peak as a junior, making 77 stops, a team-best 16 tackles for loss, five sacks and three interceptions. Although he won't be confused with Greene in terms of range and lateral quickness, he compensates by reading the flow of the play extremely well, and by taking the proper angles.
Strongside is shaping up as a toss-up between 6-4, 220-pound junior Jamal Merrell and 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Kevin Snyder . Merrell is the veteran, having started 12 games in 2011. However, he only had 44 stops, failing to really distinguish himself. Snyder, on the other hand, was nearly as productive, making 40 tackles despite no starts, and played exceptionally well during the offseason. He'll see the field plenty, especially since he can fill in at middle linebackers as well.
Watch Out For .... Greene's recovery. He's on track, but is so important to the Rutgers D that the staff is going to be a little cautious leading up to the opener. If he can shake off the rust, and ditch any ill-effects from the December injury, he's capable of contending for national recognition, such as the Butkus Award and All-America teams.
Strength: Smarts. Greene and Beauharnais aren't just big-hitting linebackers. They're also highly instinctive, which enable them to be near the ball at all times. The seniors have a great feel for the position, and will time their blitzes well, complementing their natural physical ability.
Weakness: Strongside. Relatively speaking, the Scarlet Knights are weaker at strongside compared to weakside and middle. Merrell was mediocre as a junior, and Snyder, with all of his potential, has yet to log his first start. Depth, in general, is suspect once the program moves beyond its first four in the rotation.
Outlook: Assuming Greene is healthy, the linebackers will be a cornerstone of the Rutgers D, and one of the best corps in the Big East. Greene and Beauharnais form a dynamite one-two punch from the second level, while the Merrell and Snyder duo is talented enough to clean up whatever the headliners miss.
A year after ranking among the nation's stingiest pass defenses, the return of three starters should ensure that Rutgers is every bit as nasty in 2012. The Scarlet Knights rebounded so quickly last fall in large part because of the play of 6-0, 190-pound CB Logan Ryan, who went from backup to All-Big East overnight. He has the advanced cover skills of a future NFL defensive back, breaking quickly on passes, and sticking closely to the opposition's best receiver. Active in run defense as well as when the ball is in the air, the junior was third on the team with 67 tackles, adding 5.5 stops for loss, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 14 pass breakups.
Senior Brandon Jones is also a returning starter at cornerback, making 39 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and two picks last season. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, he has the length and leaping ability to match up with some of the Big East's bigger wide receivers, but must continue to hone his ball skills.
In 6-2, 185-pound senior Marcus Cooper , the Knights have a luxury, a veteran cornerback to come off the bench, or fill in on nickel packages. He's a tough and physical two-time letterwinner, who got in on 30 tackles last season.
The other mainstay in the defensive backfield will be 6-1, 200-pound senior Duron Harmon , who is making the move from strong safety to free safety. The position's version of Ryan at cornerback, he erupted in his first season as a full-timer, parlaying 49 tackles and five picks into the All-Big East First Team. He plays with blazing speed and a level of intensity that rubs off on his teammates. A big-play guy, with a nose for being the near action, he was the natural choice to supplant David Rowe at free safety.
The newcomer of the starting lineup will be 6-0, 190-pound sophomore Lorenzo Waters , who played noticeably well in the spring. He did an about-face following a quiet debut, which included only 10 tackles, covering a large chunk of the field, and walloping anyone with the ball in his hands.
Watch Out For .... opposing teams to limit their throws on this group. The blueprint for moving the ball on the Rutgers D will involve running the ball, which may be another fruitless effort, because passing on it is going to be extremely difficult.
Strength: Clamping down in coverage. Okay, so the Big East isn't the Big 12, but the Scarlet Knights still do a remarkable job of sticking to receivers, and batting away throws. Only two teams in the country—Alabama and LSU—allowed fewer touchdown passes, and just six gave up a lower completion percentage.
Weakness: Proven backups. It's a bit of a nit-pick, but the Scarlet Knights are a little light on the second unit in the defensive backfield. While Cooper is a nice player to have coming off the bench, the majority of the B-teamers have not logged serious minutes at this level.
Outlook: Opposing quarterbacks will know to navigate the Rutgers secondary at their own risk this fall. The Scarlet Knights, bolstered by multiple next-level defenders, do a fantastic job of congesting the airways with well-skilled cornerbacks and safeties. Facing a schedule that has only one big-time quarterback on it—Arkansas' Tyler Wilson—the program will once again rank among the nation's best in pass defense.
After the long tenures of Jeremy Ito and San San Te, Rutgers is accustomed to stability at placekicker. The hope around campus is that true freshman Kyle Federico can be the program's next placekicking fixture in Piscataway. The 11th-rated player at his position in February has already taken part in his first spring camp, showing enough to gain the confidence of the coaches.
Back to handle punting duties for one final year will be senior Justin Doerner, an All-Big East Second Team choice in 2011. The transfer from Los Angeles Harbor Junior College averaged just 40.3 yards, but exhibited good hang time, while downing 24 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Back to handle punts and kickoffs will be senior Mason Robinson and junior Jeremy Deering , respectively. Deering provided some excitement a year ago, averaging 31.2 yards, including a 98-yard touchdown.
Watch Out For .... Federico's temperament. The rookie from Florida has a strong leg and crisp fundamentals thanks to years of coaching, but how will he handle the pressure associated with being a placekicker in the FBS? That answer won't come until games start being played in September.
Strength: Punt coverage. Between the directional kicks of Doerner and the coverage team, Rutgers doesn't budge very much in punt coverage. The punter will not be a boomer, but he'll angle his offerings to make sure that opponents are neutralized in the return game.
Weakness: Inexperience at kicker. Te was erratic, especially beyond 40 yards, but he was still a veteran who didn't crack under pressure. Freshmen placekickers historically suffer from the yips, which could wind up costing the Scarlet Knights a close game or two.
Outlook: This is a middling special teams unit from which new head coach Kyle Flood expects to see improvement. The punter is an all-star, but the kicker is green. Deering has pop, yet the kick returners have been marginal. And while the Knights have covered punts well of late, kickoffs have been a problem. It's a glass-is-half-empty (or full) type of a situation for Joe Rossi's unit.
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