Freshman LB relies on speed, intelligence
At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, freshman Kevin Snyder fits the build of a strongside linebacker.
But it was not his stature or strength that made him most effective for the Rutgers football team last week, when the rookie turned in the most productive game of his short career.
What allowed Snyder to wreak havoc in the Scarlet Knights’ 34-10 win against Pittsburgh was something head coach Greg Schiano saw the moment Snyder arrived in Piscataway.
“Speed and intelligence,” Schiano said. “He’s playing at a high level. He’s a true freshman and he gets it. He really played fast Saturday. He made some plays in space that were really impressive.”
Snyder, who played at Cumberland Valley High School (Pa.), entered training camp with plenty of experience at both middle linebacker and the strongside position.
But the experience did not immediately translate to an understanding of Schiano’s defensive scheme. The biggest issue Snyder faced was mental, he said.
The learning curve was not noticeable last week, when Snyder earned a pair of career firsts in recording a tackle for a loss and half a sack in the Knights’ rout of the Panthers.
Snyder and junior middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais combined for a tackle of Pitt’s Ray Graham a yard deep in the backfield with the Panthers attempting to mobilize a drive.
The tackle for loss was one of 11 the Knights’ defense registered in the win and was only one example of Snyder’s quickness in Beauharnais’ eyes.
“[Snyder] plays very fast. That’s why he plays,” Beauharnais said. “[Schiano] said to me this season that he wants to speed up this defense, and Snyder brings that. He has a lot to learn, I still have a lot to learn, we all have a lot to learn, so I just like his speed.”
Another example of Snyder’s speed came late in the second quarter on a second-and-4, as Snyder and senior safety David Rowe combined to sack quarterback Tino Sunseri. The Panthers lost seven yards on the play and surrendered another sack on the very next snap.
While his speed mirrors that of a seasoned veteran, Snyder still showed some inexperience in the moments immediately after the play.
“That was my first one,” Snyder said. “When I got up, I didn’t really know what to do.”
It is something easily correctable and likely will be as the Knights’ front seven continues to pressure the quarterback.
The defense recorded 20 sacks in its first five games and ranks No. 2 nationally behind Texas A&M.
After Snyder’s most active outing for Schiano, the Mechanicsburg, Pa., native could look at a greater workload on the strongside.
Still, Schiano identified the value of the competition between Snyder and sophomore Jamal Merrell and embraced the idea of having a pair of young, quick linebackers
“I’m really excited because he and ’Mal are both really good players,” he said. “They can run and hit, and they’re both young guys.”
But Snyder’s youth was hardly evident against the Panthers.
Beauharnais, a former strongside linebacker himself, acknowledged there is still plenty for Snyder to learn at the position. Still, the middle linebacker does not feel the need to relay much advice to the freshman.
More often than not, his speed is there to make up for it.
“I do give Snyder a little advice, but he’s doing fine.” Beauharnais said. “He’s just got to work on the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves.”