“That 2008 team was pretty good going in, but I like our chances. We have a strong core of leadership and a strong senior class. I think if we can put it together we can do a lot of great things in training camp and in the season. I think we have a really great shot at it.” —senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone [as quoted in APP.com]
Amid speculation that they will finish no better than third in the Big East this season (Big East Media Poll), the Scarlet Knights have opened their fall camp with an almost entirely new coaching staff.
Of particular interest is how the defense will fair, especially since Rutgers lost its defensive-minded head coach Greg Schiano following the 2011 season. Add to that the uncertainty of this year's special teams and the loss of star wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, and the onus for a winning season may fall to the defense.
Stopping the run and alternately reaching the quarterback on passing downs has always been the primary responsibility of the defensive line. The Knights return seven upperclassmen to the trenches this season to pair with an interesting mix of underclassmen.
Fifth-year seniors Marvin Booker (who saw limited action in 2011 after undergoing season-ending surgery in 2010) and Scott Vallone (58 tackles in 2011) will lead the group along with senior Ka'Lial Glaud (who only started only two of the 13 games he appeared). Vallone is a 2012 Preseason All-Big East First Team selection for both Phil Steele Publications and Athlon Sports.
Junior Issac Holmes (12 tackles, one sack last season) is projected as a starter, but fellow juniors Michael Larrow (10 tackles last year), Jamil Merrell (18 tackles, one sack in 2011) and Marcus Thompson (13 tackles last year) will be looking to impress during camp in an effort to gain starting roles.
The experience of the defensive line will be needed to cover up a thin, mostly inexperienced linebacker corp in 2012.
Underclassmen will undoubtedly see some game action, mostly on special teams, but several have a chance to earn time on the field this fall.
Sophomores Jawaun Wynn (who has moved to DE from WR this season) and Kenneth Kirksey (who appeared in nine games last season) will also hope to catch the eye of new defensive coordinator Robb Smith.
A bumper crop of freshmen will be evaluated this fall, including Max Issaka, Myles Jackson, Marquise Wright, Djwany Mera, Al Page and Daryl Stephenson. True freshmen Julian Pinnix-Odrick, a 3-star prospect per Scout.com, and 5-star [Scout.com] recruit Darius Hamilton will look to gain positions as backups on the defensive line.
Of particular interest is recent true freshman transfer Jamil Pollard, a 3-star prospect [Scout.com] from West Deptford, NJ. Pollard decided to transfer from Penn State after the NCAA granted players the ability to do so without penalty.