2010 Rutgers Preview – Defense
Rutgers SS Joe Lefeged
Rutgers SS Joe Lefeged
Posted Jul 2, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knight Defense

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What you need to know: No respect. That pretty much sums up a Rutgers defense that was terrific a year ago, despite landing just a single player on the All-Big East squad. Only a no-name, unselfish squad, like the one coached by Greg Schiano and his staff, could finish top 20 nationally in run defense, takeaways, sacks, tackles for loss, scoring D, and total D with such little star power. So, as long as the staff remains intact, the 2010 edition should be able to withstand the loss of five starters. Sack leader Jonathan Freeny slides into the lineup for DE George Johnson. Steve Beauharnais and Manny Abreu will ably replace Ryan D'Imperio and Damaso Munoz at linebacker. Cornerback? That's a different story, as the program moves on without that lone all-star, current New England Patriot Devin McCourty. Help will come from a deep and predictably unheralded front that gets into the backfield as well as any team in the conference. If there's a tweak the Knights need to make, it's in the red zone, where they struggled to force field goals in 2009.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Antonio Lowery, 55
Sacks: Jonathan Freeny, 9.5
Interceptions: David Rowe, Khaseem Greene, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Jonathan Freeny
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Brandon Bing
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Steve Beauharnais
Best pro prospect: Senior SS Joe Lefeged
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Freeny, 2) Lefeged, 3) Senior DE Alex Silvestro
Strength of the defense: Defensive line, backfield pressure, run defense, takeaways, third down defense
Weakness of the defense: Interior size, questions at the corners, red zone stops

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: There's enough of the core back for the staff to feel very confident about the defensive line. Yes, George Johnson is gone, but 6-3, 250-pound senior Jonathan Freeny is prepared to flourish in a full-time role. An absolute blur coming off the edge, he racked up 33 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and a team-high 9.5 sacks despite not starting a single game. Having painstakingly added additional weight, he has enough size and the chiseled frame to be a three-down player and provide more support in run defense. If he can build on 2009, he'll have a shot in the pros as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

Forming a bookend at defensive end will be 6-4, 260-pound senior Alex Silvestro , the strongside defender of the pair. After starting all 13 games at tackle in 2008, he looked much more comfortable on the outside last season, making 42 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks, and four fumble recoveries. He has long arms and a good burst off the snap, playing with non-stop energy and an appetite for making stops behind the line. While he won't make as many big plays as Freeny, he'll be steadier versus the run.

At the nose, 6-2, 270-pound senior Charlie Noonan is back for one final season in the middle of the line. More steady than spectacular, he started a dozen games last year, making 20 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one fumble recovery. While undersized, he compensates with a hot motor and above average quickness for an interior lineman. With other linemates getting so much attention, the key for him this fall is to shoot the gap and make more stops behind the line.

After Freeny, the breakout star of 2009 up front was 6-3, 270-pound sophomore Scott Vallone, the sure-fire choice to start at tackle. He immediately moved into the starting lineup and went on to make 41 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and numerous Freshman All-American teams. Justifying all of the attention he got coming out of high school, he started commanding double-teams and finished the regular season with a career-high 11 versus West Virginia. He has the look of a four-year starter and future all-star in the conference.

Projected Top Reserves: The Knights will also be solid off the bench, led by 6-2, 260-pound junior Eric LeGrand, Noonan's closest competition at the nose. The two could wind up sharing reps, especially after LeGrand made 33 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries as a reserve. He's added more muscle, yet maintains the quickness and acceleration that allow him to create inside penetration.

Now that his off-field issues and injuries are in the past, 6-4, 260-pound junior Justin Francis is intent on becoming a more important part of the rotation at end. He's bounced around before settling down on the outside and making 14 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks as a backup. Fueled by a nice blend of size and speed, he has the potential to be an every-down lineman before he's through.

Watch Out For .... LeGrand to make it difficult to keep him on the bench. Not unlike former Scarlet Knight lineman Eric Foster, he's a playmaker with a knack for getting into backfields and making things happen. Noonan is steady, but LeGrand has a flair for the spectacular, which keeps showing up during practice and on gameday.
Strength: Pressure. The Scarlet Knights don't necessarily have to blitz to create backfield pressure. The front wall will do it for them. Rutgers does an outstanding job of getting a push at the point of attack, which explains why it was in the top 15 nationally in run defense, sacks, and tackles for loss.
Weakness: Girth on the inside. While it didn't cost them often last season, the Knights are unusually light in the trenches, especially at the tackles. None of the interior linemen on the two-deep is north of 270 pounds, which could present a problem against bigger and more physical opponents.
Outlook: Although it lacks star power or household names, it works extremely well together and battles to the whistle. The Knights are going to bring it on every down and spend plenty of time in opposing backfields. While it might fly under the national radar, this is arguably the best defensive line in the Big East.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: The Knights will be doing some tweaking at linebacker now that Ryan D'Imperio and Damaso Munoz have graduated. It's a good thing the program popped the cork on 6-2, 230-pound Steve Beauharnais last year. The sophomore burst on to the scene as a rookie, starting four games and making 36 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and five sacks. He was peaking as the season progressed, finishing with seven tackles and a pair of sacks in the bowl game with UCF. Now that he's set to take over at middle linebacker, his explosive athleticism and toughness will be in full display.

Is this the year that the light turns on for 6-3, 245-pound junior Manny Abreu , the favorite to man strongside? A disappointment since being one of the most heralded recruits in school history, he started to look the part in the spring, diagnosing the play and punishing the man with the ball. After making just 18 tackles in eight games, he has the size and strength to shed blockers and become a major factor in run defense.

The lone senior expected to start is 6-2, 225-pound senior Antonio Lowery, who has weakside in a stranglehold. A terrific all-around athlete and big hitter, he excels at quickly filling the lanes and supporting in run defense. The team's leading returning tackler, he enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2009, making 55 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a couple of forced fumbles in only nine games of action.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing a veteran presence and leadership behind Beauharnais in the middle is 6-1, 215-pound senior Jim Dumont . A tough, blue-collar former walk-on, he plays the game fearlessly and will do whatever is required to make a play. He only had 11 stops in 13 games and has limitations, but brings much-needed leadership and work ethic to the defense and special teams.

Like Beauharnais, the coaches also like the potential of 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Ka'Lial Glaud, who has spent the offseason transitioning from inside to outside linebacker. He got his feet wet in a dozen games making eight tackles and getting accustomed to the speed of the game on special teams. Still a little light and undersized, he'll compensate for the time being with his quickness and closing speed.

Watch Out For .... Beauharnais to quickly emerge as one of the Big East's best young linebackers. On instinct and raw athleticism alone, he muscled his way into the spotlight in his first year on campus. With a full offseason and spring session behind him, he's liable to lead this team in tackles and pick up some all-star recognition in 2010.
Strength: Range. The starters are outstanding in pursuit, going from sideline to sideline effortlessly and making plays all over the field. When Beauharnais, Lowery, and Abreu are on the field, quarterbacks better be wary because all three possess good timing and explosion on the blitz.
Weakness: Proven reserves. After Dumont, who's seen the field a lot, the Scarlet Knights are going to be very young and inexperienced on the second and third teams. There's a sea of underclassmen fighting for playing time and incoming freshmen who realize they might be able to avoid a redshirt year.
Outlook: While two-thirds of the starting unit is gone, the situation isn't as bad as it looks. Solid recruiting at the position ensures that Rutgers has talent at the second, but how well the group performs will depend heavily on the maturation of Beauharnais in the middle and Abreu at strongside.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Two starters need to be replaced, most notably first team All-Big East CB Devin McCourty. Attempting to fill those big shoes will be 6-0, 195-pound junior David Rowe, who played well on the hot seat as an 11-game starter a year ago. He made 36 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and seven pass breakups. Far more important, however, was his development as a pass defender, which got progressively better and more instinctive as the season progressed.

At the opposite corner will be 5-11, 180-pound Brandon Bing, a three-time letterwinner searching for an expanded role. Perennially one of the fastest members of the program, he's yet to translate all of the raw speed into consistency in pass defense. Last season was a disappointment for the senior. After getting exposed in the opener with Cincinnati, he only started one more game, finishing with only 10 tackles and a pick.

The warden of this group will once again be 6-1, 205-pound senior Joe Lefeged . An enforcer at strong safety, he's a third-year starter with a knack for lighting up opposing backs and receivers. More mature and disciplined than when he arrived, he's less likely to go for the kill shot, which has helped his coverage skills and limited his mistakes. After seeing his production fall to 44 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack, he's looking to turn this final year into a salary run to the NFL.

The budding star at the position is 6-1, 210-pound sophomore Khaseem Greene , who is set to take over at free safety. He impressed in a reserve role in the secondary a year ago, making 33 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks, two picks, and two fumble recoveries. While he has an ideal size-speed combination and hits like a truck, it's his development on the cerebral side of the position that's really impressed the coaching staff. Now that the game is starting to slow down, he's eyeing a monster season for the Knights.

Projected Top Reserves: Lurking behind Bing and Rowe and closing fast is 6-0, 185-pound redshirt freshman Logan Ryan. Even if he doesn't start this year, he's going to play an increased role in the rotation and make an early pitch for a job in 2011. It was only the spring, but he played very, flashing the hips and back-pedal of a cover corner who'll play a lot of football in New Jersey before he's through.

When Patrick Kivlehan got injured early last season, he was passed on the depth chart by Greene, and was never able to narrow the gap. Now, the 6-2, 205-pound junior is resigned to serving as a backup at free safety and special teams ace. He'll bring good size and intensity off the bench to go along with the experience of a two-time letterwinner.

Watch Out For .... Ryan to give the coaching staff reason to pause this fall. Yeah, he lacks any game experience, but he also has a higher ceiling than Rowe or Bing. If he can play catch up in September and either of the starters opens the door, he could slide into the lineup by midseason.
Strength: Physicality of the safeties. Lefeged and Greene are a couple of heavyweight punchers who'll make opposing players pay for not keeping their head on a swivel. Especially in run defense, the Rutgers safeties are going to fill lanes quickly and punish like a middle linebacker.
Weakness: Lockdown corners. There's no overstating the importance of McCourty's graduation to this group. The Scarlet Knight no longer have a defensive back capable of cutting off half the field, relying instead on a couple of raw cover guys in Bing and Rowe.
Outlook: After losing McCourty, the secondary will take an inevitable step backwards. How far will depend on the play of Rowe, Bing, and Ryan at cornerback. The safeties, on the other hand, are capable of becoming tone-setters and the kind of playmakers that raise up the level of the entire unit.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior San San Te has the leg strength to continue as the Scarlet Knight placekicker, but his future depends on his accuracy. He's had a tendency to push the ball to the left or the right, hitting just 18-of-28 field goals a year ago. The hope is that he's simply struggling with a mechanical flaw that can be corrected before the start of the upcoming season.

The team's punter will once again be senior Teddy Dellaganna, the former transfer from Bakersfield (Calif.) Community College. He's gotten progressively better with each passing season, averaging 42.2 yards a year ago and booming his punts in the spring. He's also the holder on field goals and handles kickoffs, enhancing his chances of playing on Sundays next year.

Sophomore Mohamed Sanu could reprise his role as the punt returner or cede it to junior Mason Robinson if his role on offense becomes too demanding. Kickoffs are expected to be the domain of senior Joe Lefeged, who averaged 32.4 yards on 11 returns and took one back 91 yards.

Watch Out For .... the battle to replace Andrew DePaola at long snapper. Though it sounds mundane, this will be an underrated piece of the special teams puzzle in 2010. Redshirt freshman Paul Carrezola has the edge, but classmate Robert Jones is set to continue the battle in the summer.
Strength: The coverage teams. For the past few seasons, the Scarlet Knights have consistently had one of the stingiest cover teams in the Big East. This year should be no different. Thanks in large part to the strong leg of Dellaganna, Rutgers led the league in kick coverage and were second in punts.
Weakness: Punt returns. After finishing last in the conference and 102nd nationally, there's plenty of room for improvement here. Sanu did a good job of fielding punts, but did little with them, and Robinson is making his way back from a season-ending injury.
Outlook: The key will be Te, who has yet to fulfill his potential or maximize all of his leg strength. If he can straighten out his kicks beyond 40 yards, it'll solidify a special teams unit that has a nice foundation with Dellaganna and the coverage units.
Rating: 7.5

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