Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Rutgers Preview
2008 Rutgers Depth
2007 CFN Rutgers Preview
2006 CFN Rutgers Preview
need to know:
A healthy 15 players who started games in 2007 are back,
promising news for a Rutgers defense that’s looking for a
rebound. The Knights allowed 106 more points than the prior year
and had a measly 19 takeaways, a real no-no for Greg Schiano’s
pressure D. Three leaders, DT Eric Foster, LB Brandon Renkart,
and S Ron Girault, are gone, but Rutgers feels good about the
young athletes who have populated the last three recruiting
classes. This year’s opponents will be content to pound away at
the middle of a line that’s undersized, inexperienced, and in
need of support from the back seven. The alternative is to
venture into the teeth of a well-stocked pass defense that was
No. 5 nationally and gets plenty of help from the pass rush.
Jamaal Westerman, 8
Interceptions: Devin McCourty, 2
of the defense: Senior S Courtney Greene
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DT
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Ryan D’Imperio
Best pro prospect: Greene
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Greene 2) Senior DE
Jamaal Westerman 3) Senior CB Jason McCourty
Strength of the defense: The secondary
Weakness of the defense: Run defense
Projected Starters: The Knights lose just one
letterwinner from this group, but it’s a big one. DT Eric
Foster, a charismatic former All-American, is out of
eligibility, creating a vacuum in the middle of the line. Hoping
to fill the void will be a pair of seniors, Pete Tverdov
and Jamaal Westerman. Despite being hampered by an early
season ankle sprain, Tverdov played well in nine starts,
registering 36 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and four pass
breakups. A tireless worker who prepares meticulously, he’s a
classic interior lineman with a great motor. After being a great
complimentary player, the 6-4, 265-pound Tverdov needs to show
he can still make plays without Foster around to deflect
Westerman is shifting over from end, where he was the Knights’
sack leader two years running. At 6-3 and 260 pounds, he has
lived in opposing backfields using a quick first step and great
closing speed to bag 34.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks since
leaving Canada for Piscataway.
On the outside, Westerman’s production must be replaced by
junior George Johnson and senior Gary Watts, both
of whom played extensively last fall and will do so again this
year. At 6-4 and 250 pounds, Johnson has the athletic ability
and speed of an outside linebacker with the mentality of a pure
pass rusher. He had 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, four
sacks, and three pass breakups, but disappeared for too many
chunks of time during the season.
Watts is more of a situational rusher, who won’t offer a ton of
help in run defense. Only 6-3 and 245 pounds, he used his
explosiveness to earn more playing time and the first four sacks
of his career.
Projected Top Reserves: Although sophomore end
Alex Silvestro will have to fight for playing time, he’s
already proven that competition won’t hinder his progress. The
6-4, 230-pound former linebacker impressively earned three
starts as a rookie, including one in the International Bowl, and
had 13 tackles. An exceptionally good pass rusher with long
arms, he won’t have many assignments in run defense.
Depth at tackle, on the other hand, is a much bigger concern.
Rutgers is banking on several unknown commodities, like
sophomore Charlie Noonan, and redshirt freshmen
Desmond Wynn and Wayne Thomas grow up in a hurry. The
6-2, 265-pound Noonan is the closest to being ready after
parlaying his quickness and motor into a climb up the depth
While the 6-6, 260-pound Wynn and 6-5, 280-pound Thomas are a
year behind Noonan, they offer much more size in the middle of
Watch Out For… sophomore Jonathan Freeny.
Yes, he’s raw and only 6-3 and 230 pounds, but he also has the
Rutgers coaches intrigued by his athletic ability, phenomenal
speed in backside pursuit, and general upside. He got on the
field and lettered as a true freshman, just his third year of
Strength: The ends. Rutgers has depth, experience,
and speed at the position, which translates into fresh legs for
opposing offensive tackles to contend with late in games.
Weakness: The tackles. In two years the Knights
have lost Foster and Ramel Meekins, two highly disruptive,
undersized tackles. Tverdov is the kind of workaholic every
coach wants on his team, but not necessarily as the main
attraction at the position.
Outlook: Rutgers will have few problems pressuring
the quarterback, but stopping the run could be a fatal flaw.
After regressing against the run a year ago, the trend will
continue unless a surprise or two emerges out of a suspect group
Projected Starters: The corps remains virtually
intact with a handful of underclassmen preparing to make their
presence felt. Sure, captain Brandon Renkart and his leadership
will be missed, but he’s not irreplaceable. Junior Ryan
D’Imperio is ready to have the monster season that many
predicted when he was one of the nation’s most coveted
linebacker recruits of 2006. Slated to start in the middle as a
sophomore, a broken leg in the spring impeded his progress and
limited him to just 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in 11
games. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, D’Imperio has the size-speed
package to be so much more than the typical overachieving
Scarlet Knight linebacker.
Flanking D’Imperio will be senior Kevin Malast and
redshirt freshman Manny Abreu. The 6-2, 230-pound Malast
excelled in his year starting at weakside, making 92 tackles,
7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. A good all-around athlete
with terrific lateral quickness, he has got the right makeup to
succeed Renkart as the leader of this group.
One of the most heralded defensive players to ever sign with
Rutgers, Abreu is poised to make a big splash in his second
season. He was in the mix as a true freshman before an injury
limited him to just a couple of September cameos. An exceptional
all-around athlete at 6-3 and 220 pounds, his role is about to
Projected Top Reserves: Like Abreu, sophomore
Antonio Lowery is a fantastic athlete who just needs more
reps and a better understanding of the defense to earn more
playing time. In need of a little more mass at 6-2 and 220
pounds, he played in all 13 games as a true freshman, making 10
tackles and standing out on special teams.
Injuries forced junior Damaso Munoz into the lineup, and
he responded with 67 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and 2.5
sacks in 10 starts. He’s quick and experienced, but is also
undersized and recovering from shoulder surgery that could cost
him a chunk of the upcoming year.
Behind D’Imperio is junior Blair Bines, who had nine
tackles a year ago, a poor indication of his potential. He
missed the first month of the season with a broken jaw, losing
valuable time in the competition at strongside. Healthy again,
he’s back to being a 6-2, 245-pound wrecking ball who explodes
at the point of impact.
Watch Out For… more blitzes from the linebackers.
The Scarlet Knights have markedly upgraded their overall
athleticism and speed with the last few recruiting classes,
which gives the coaches more latitude with the play calling.
Strength: Athleticism. Gone are the days when
Rutgers relied on undersized, try-hard guys who no one else
recruited. This collection is loaded with top athletes who go
sideline-to-sideline as quickly as anyone.
Weakness: Experience. Renkart’s graduation and
Munoz’s injured shoulder leaves Malast as the only linebacker
who’s logged extensive minutes. The young guys, namely D’Imperio
and Bines, are being counted on to perform like seasoned vets.
Outlook: Thanks to the staff’s recruiting efforts,
linebacker is one of the up-and-coming positions. While the unit
could take a month to gel, its upside is substantial. Look out
Projected Starters: Four-year starting safety Ron
Girault is gone, but Rutgers got a big break when All-Big East
FS Courtney Greene opted to return for his senior season.
The team leader with 101 tackles a year ago, he has started
every game of his three-year career and should be a lock for
all-star honors once again. The 6-2, 210-pounder hits like a ton
of bricks and will be the tone-setter in the secondary.
The starter at strong safety will either be sophomore Joe
Lefeged or senior Glen Lee, both of whom started
games and played extensively in 2007. The 6-1, 195-pound Lefeged
was a surprise as a true freshman becoming an enforcer who
really packs a punch, he debuted with 38 tackles and 3.5 sacks,
a laying the foundation for a bright career.
Lee can also deliver the payload, but is no slouch in pass
coverage, flashing the footwork to play either free or strong
safety. Filling in Girault in four games, the 6-2, 195-pounder
had 32 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a junior.
The twins, senior Jason McCourty and junior Devin
McCourty, are back for a second year together as the
starting corners after helping Rutgers to No. 5 nationally in
pass defense. For Jason, this is actually his third year as a
starter, a far cry from the 160-pound running back who arrived
in Piscataway four years ago. Now 5-11 and 185 pounds, he had
44 tackles and a team-high 12 pass breakups last year.
Devin fared well in his starting debut, finishing fifth on the
team with 63 tackles, picking off a pair of passes, and blocking
three kicks on special teams. Both brothers are heady,
hard-working athletes and regulars on the Big East All-Academic
Projected Top Reserves: With an eye on the
starting free safety job in 2009, junior Davon Smart will
back up Greene. A 5-10, 190-pounder who’s been buried on the
depth chart, he saw his first action a year ago, appearing in
all 13 games and making 18 tackles.
The top reserve behind the McCourtys at cornerback is sophomore
is 5-11, 160-pound Brandon Bing, who cracked the two-deep
as a true freshman. One of the fastest players on the team, he
needs to add some muscle and work on his cover skills in order
to command a bigger role.
Watch Out For… the progress of junior Zaire
Kitchen. The future at safety not long ago, he’s trying to
come back from a nasty knee injury for the second year in-a-row.
Kitchen tore his ACL last November, another devastating setback
in a career had so much promise. If healthy, he’s good enough
to push Lefeged to the second team.
Strength: The safeties. Even without Girault, the
Knights are set at safety thanks to the return of Greene and the
development of Lefeged and Lee. No Big East school can boast a
harder hitting trio than the one in New Jersey.
Weakness: Interceptions. As sound as the secondary
was a year ago, it only picked off five passes in 13 games.
It’s up to the defensive backs to break a little faster and hold
on to a few more of those 50 or so balls that were broken up in
Outlook: Provided the pass rush continues to do
its part, Rutgers will repeat as one of the nation’s stingiest
pass defenses. With Greene, Lefeged, and Lee roaming the
secondary, opposing receivers better keep their heads on a
swivel when facing the Knights.
Projected Starters: Rutgers has the unenviable
task of replacing All-American K Jeremy Ito, who also doubled as
the team’s punter last year. His successor at kicker will
redshirt freshman San San Te, a prized recruit two years
ago. An accurate kicker with good fundamentals, he has to prove
he can handle himself in pressure situations.
Ito was awful as a punter, so there is a silver lining to his
graduation. The contenders for the job are sophomore Teddy
Dellaganna and junior Matt Voliva. A former transfer
from Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College, Dellaganna was
brought in to win the job last year, but couldn’t deliver. With
a second chance, he has to come through. Voliva is a former
Maine transfer who can also pitch in as a placekicker in an
Watch Out For… more big plays on special teams.
The team’s return men, junior Tim Brown, junior Dennis
Campbell, and sophomore Mason Robinson are too
electric to be as so-so as they were a year ago. Rutgers was
last in the Big East in kickoff returns and near the bottom of
the league in punt returns.
Strength: Covering punts. Despite getting no help
from Ito, the Scarlet Knights allowed a mere six yards a punt
return in 2007, second lowest in the Big East.
Weakness: Punting. Ito averaged a pitiful 35.7
yards a punt, yet held off Dellaganna, this year’s likely
starter. Rutgers never missed former punter Joe Radigan more.
Outlook: This is a genuine problem area for the
Scarlet Knights, who figure to be in a lot of tight contest. The
inconsistency at punter and immaturity of Te will cost Rutgers
at least one game in 2008.