July 16, 2018 | ° F

Knights face holes on defense

Knight notebook

Photo by Nelson Morales |

Junior safety Lorenzo Waters (21) is one of three returning starters on defense, along with senior linebacker Jamal Merrell and senior defensive tackle Jamil Merrell. Waters finshed last season with 68 tackles.

Another Rutgers football season — another group of coordinators.

Last season, the Scarlet Knights brought in Dave Brock to call the plays on offense and promoted secondary coach Robb Smith to defensive coordinator.

Following last season, Brock took the head-coaching job at the University of Delaware, while Smith joined former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano in the NFL.

Current head coach Kyle Flood brought in Ron Prince to be the offensive coordinator.

Photo: Nelson Morales

Senior linebacker Jamal Merrell (37) returns as the Knights’ leading tackler after he complied 83 last season. He is also the only returning starting linebacker.

On defense, Flood kept with the trend of promoting from within and gave the defensive coordinator job to Dave Cohen, who spent last season coaching Rutgers’ linebackers.

For a defense that lost all but three of last season’s starters, that is not such a bad thing.

“It helps us a lot,” said senior linebacker Jamal Merrell. “We already built a relationship with him and at the same time, we already know him personally. It’s nothing new.”

Merrell, along with his brother, senior defensive tackle Jamil Merrell, and junior safety Lorenzo Waters, is one of the three returning players that saw significant time on their side of the ball last season.

That was not because of the backup players’ lack of talent, but of the wealth of talent on the field.

Players such as junior linebacker Kevin Snyder, who had to wait behind NFL prospects Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais, ended up in unfortunate situations, Flood said.

That yielded both negative and positive effects.

While many players had to watch from the sidelines for the majority of the season, they worked alongside very experienced players. As a result, learned from them.

In Jamal Merrell’s case, Greene and Beauharnais are still present.

“I can hear [Beauharnais] in my head [saying things like], ‘Jamal, you went too far outside,’” he said. “[Greene and Beauharnais] made me a better player.”

But they will not be on the field with him, and that is still an issue.

Between Greene, Beauharnais and cornerback Logan Ryan alone, the defense lost 313 tackles from last season.

And aside from the three returning starters, no remaining player earned more than 30 tackles last year.

So some production needs to be made up, and with spring practice beginning yesterday, the Knights’ coaches have begun the road to figuring out who will try to match those numbers.

Cornerback is the only defensive position not to have at least one returning starter from the previous season.

Sophomore Tejay Johnson and junior Gareef Glashen remain the early frontrunners for starting roles.

The duo combined for 18 tackles last season, several of which came on special teams.

“When you step on the field when [coaches] say, ‘first team,’ it’s special,” Johnson said. “Last year I was on the sidelines cheering. This year I’m hearing the same thing for me.”

Johnson said what has helped him prepare for this season is not only learning behind Ryan, but also who he matches up against in practice.

Junior wideouts Miles Shuler and Brandon Coleman — who will not participate in spring drills because of a procedure done on his knee — as well as players such as redshirt freshman receiver Ruhann Peele, offer different styles that gallow Johnson to match up with different types of players.

It also does not hurt — especially in Rutgers’ system — that Johnson is not afraid of contact.

“I like being physical,” Johnson said. “I like hitting. I like hitting more than covering.”

Other candidates for time at cornerback include redshirt freshman Ian Thomas — who transferred from offense to defense last season — and four-star recruit Nadir Barnwell, who enrolled early at Rutgers so he could join spring practice.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Joey Gregory on Twitter @Joey_Gregory.

By Joey Gregory

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