The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are looking to finish the season strong in 2013 and make a run for another piece of the Big East title. While Kyle Flood continues to work on improving the offense in his second season at the helm, it could be the defense that does the Knights in. On a unit that was gutted by the NFL draft, Rutgers has to find leaders to step up and pick up the slack. Can Jamil Merrell step up in the pass rush?
In all, five players were drafted off Rutgers’ 2012 defense that ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 14.15 points per game and No. 10 in total defense, giving up 311.62 yards per game. Their biggest loss may be linebacker Khaseem Greene who was taken in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears. Last season, Greene led the team in tackles (136), sacks (6) and was second in tackles for loss (12). The defensive line was hit as well, losing Scott Vallone who led all defensive linemen in tackles and led the team in tackles for loss.
That is a lot of production to try and replace. While his brother Jamal Merrell will have to step up his leadership at linebacker, the production from the line falls squarely on Jamil. Last year, Merrell was a strong presence on the line, finishing with 40 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss, and finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks. He is the most disruptive force returning for Rutgers in 2013 and will be called upon to do even more next season.
While the offense looks like it will be better than last year, there’s no guarantee it will hit the ground in stride when the season opens. The defense must reload next fall to keep Rutgers competitive and the presence of Jamil Merrell on the defensive line will be crucial to their success.