The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are working on making a run at a Big East title in 2013 before leaving for the Big Ten conference. They had plenty of questions this offseason on both sides of the ball, but seem to have gotten some answers offensively this spring. Gary Nova has turned a corner, Brandon Coleman is on his way back from injury and Savon Huggins appears ready to handle the load in the running game. For the defense to follow suit, Rutgers has to have linebacker Jamal Merrell step up as a leader in 2013.
Nine of the top 15 tacklers off the Rutgers defense a year ago are now gone thanks to graduation, including senior linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais. Greene led the team with 136 tackles in 2012, 42 more than any other player on the defense, along with a team-high six sacks while Beauharnais finished fourth in tackles, adding six tackles for loss and a sack for good measure. That will be a ton of production to replace at the linebacker position, but Rutgers can lean on Merrell to get it done.
Merrell finished third on the team in 2012 with 83 tackles and is the second leading returning tackler on the defense for 2013. He added 8.5 tackles for loss, one sack, an interception and forced fumble, along with two blocked kicks during his junior season, to flash the ability to step up and lead this defense during his senior season. He will be tasked with building on his ability to disrupt, either with more tackles for loss, sacks, or forced turnovers, in order to carry the load of the Rutgers’ defense.
It’s difficult to replace the bulk of your defense in just one offseason, but that is what Rutgers will have to do if they have any hope of making a run at the conference title. Can Jamal Merrell be the difference-maker at linebacker?