A strong defense has always been a trademark of the Scarlet Knights, but the 2012 edition under defensive coordinator Robb Smith, assistant defensive coach Tom McEntire and linebackers coach Dave Cohen may take some time to find their stride.
Returning for Rutgers is senior Steve Beauharnais, who was second on the team in tackles (77 in 2011). Beauharnais started all 13 games for the Knights last season, and is projected as a starter on the spring depth chart.
Much has been made of preseason press given to fifth-year senior Khaseem Greene, who makes the switch this year from defensive back to linebacker. In 2011, Greene led the team with 141 tackles. He shared Big East Player of the Year honors with Derek Wolfe of the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2011, and Athlon Sports projects him as a second-team All-American this season.
The final starting LB position will be under scrutiny due to the battle between junior Jamal Merrell (44 tackles in 2011) and sophomore Kevin Snyder (40 tackles in 2011).
Rounding out the linebacker corps will be:
Robert Joseph (6'2", 220 pounds), is a junior who makes the transition from fullback. In high school the athletic Joseph played both running back and cornerback.
Nick DePaola, who saw limited action in his 13 games last season, amassed only nine tackles in 2011. DePaola moved from wide receiver to linebacker at the start of the year, and saw most of his game time as a member of the special teams unit. DePaola did not play in either 2009 nor 2010.
Substitutes at linebacker will include freshman Griffin Murray (who did not play in 2011) and sophomore Justin Mills (who also did not see game action last season).
Former high school middle linebacker Anthony Milito (Basking Ridge, NJ) did not see any game action in 2011. His athletic quality is borne out by his high school career, where in addition to his time at linebacker, he also rushed for over 1,800 yards (combined) as a fullback in this last two years.
Underclassmen Dallas Whitaker, a freshman, is a local New Jersey product who will probably be used in spot situations and special teams, while freshman Quentin Gause is not expected to get much playing time, either.
True freshmen Quanzell Lambert, Connor Lyons and Steve Longa round out the linebackers. Al three are straight from the New Jersey high school talent pipeline but will, in all likelihood, not see much action this season.
After a tumultuous off-season, camp has finally opened for the Scarlet Knights, and new head coach Kyle Flood appeared pleased by the efforts on the first day.
"I thought the energy was excellent," offered Flood [as reported by Tom Luicci of the Star-Ledger on NJ.com] following day one of practice. "I saw passion. I saw enthusiasm."