OLB returns for RU after kidney injury
Jamal Merrell did not think he needed to wear street clothes during the Rutgers football team’s victory Saturday against Southern Methodist.
It also was not the only game the senior linebacker felt he did not need to sit out because of an injury.
“I felt I was ready to go for every game, but we have the best medical staff and it was up in their hands and I trust them,” Merrell said.
Merrell was medically cleared this week for the Scarlet Knights’ Thursday night matchup against No. 8 Louisville, with head coach Kyle Flood fully confident Merrell has healed from a kidney injury sustained Sept. 7 against Norfolk State.
Flood agreed with Merrell to an extent when it came to his availability, but he said it was not his own decision.
He is even more confident Merrell can handle starter’s minutes, as the Bear, Del., native is listed as the Knights’ strong side starter.
“I think he’s ready to go,” Flood said. “He has passed all the tests and qualifications that he needed to do get cleared. Physically he looked like he could’ve played last week but he wasn’t medically ready to play. Now he’s cleared and ready to go.”
Not only will it mark Merrell’s first game action in more than a month, it will also be the first time he and his brother — senior defensive end Jamil Merrell — will play at the same time this season.
Jamil Merrell missed the Knights’ first two contests with a lower leg injury sustained late in preseason camp. It was only with his brother injured that Jamil Merrell made his way back into the defensive line rotation.
Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Steve Longa is well aware of the potential both bring when on the field together.
He especially felt the effects of Jamal Merrell’s absence, as Longa said his return will undoubtedly ease the pressure on the linebacking core.
“It’s great. We got the two brothers now,” Longa said. “The energy and excitement is awesome now. We’re happy they’re back. We missed him very much and we know what he’s capable of doing. He makes big plays.”
Even though the Knights’ linebackers have held their own since Jamal Merrell’s injury, his return could not have come at a better time.
Rutgers’ front seven will garner the task of containing Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who Flood said is highly effective in getting the ball downfield even after the play breaks down.
Flood said after practice Sunday night that Bridgewater is one of the better quarterbacks in the country. Anything less than a No. 1 overall draft choice in next year’s NFL Draft would shock him.
Jamal Merrell’s biggest responsibility may be to generate pressure against Bridgewater, or at least prevent him from making plays after contact. Despite not being able to perform that role in the Knights’ last three games, the lack of playing time this season has not discouraged him.
“I’m not just focused on me,” Jamal Merrell said. “With football comes injuries, so I was just there for my teammates and my linebacking core.”
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