Thompson finds home on d-line


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Photo by Tian Li |

Senior defensive end Marcus Thompson found early-season success as a pass rusher after switching to the strong side this season but has struggled lately.


Senior defensive end Marcus Thompson’s initial hesitation picking a position when he joined the Rutgers football team was like a woman’s indecision when picking an outfit.

Thompson entered the program in 2009 as a running back and linebacker from Boyd Anderson (Fla.) High School. He went from outside linebacker to defensive end to fullback, and then finally returned to defensive end.

Thompson never played another position after playing fullback in spring drills as a sophomore. He found a home at defensive end, but one where he could never find the quarterback.

Something clicked this year: a minor position change that became major.

Photo: Jovelle Tamayo

Former Knight Scott Vallone and other defensive linemen fed off Marcus Thompson’s energy when he was a rookie, Thompson said.

Thompson switched to the R — the weak side — after last year playing the E — the strong side. He rarely has to oppose both an offensive lineman and a tight end, which was difficult for someone his size at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds.

“I can get a tight end and bully him around a little bit, but definitely coming off the edge like that helps,” Thompson said.

Even though Thompson only accumulated two half sacks within his first three years, his second move to defensive end felt right to him.

Thompson didn’t understand the plays well enough when former head coach Greg Schiano originally put him at strong side linebacker, he said.

Then he played defensive end … and then fullback. He liked the idea of returning to the backfield, but he eventually realized he belonged on defense.

“I enjoyed playing fullback, but you don’t get the ball as much [as tailbacks],” Thompson said. “It’s a lot of blocking. I said, ‘You know what? I miss defense.’ For the little time I was there, I actually enjoyed playing defense.”

Thompson’s sacks piled up this season, and it began when he shot high with a preseason goal.

He wanted two sacks per game.

It would take a miracle of Biblical proportions for Thompson to not fall significantly short of that goal. But Thompson established himself early this season as Rutgers’ top pass rusher.

Thompson accumulated a sack in the first two games and 1.5 in the third.

Then Thompson’s sack rate slipped, and he only got one in the past eight games. He can identify several reasons why.

“I feel like the quarterbacks now that we’ve been playing, they’ve been getting the ball a lot quicker,” Thompson said. “They’ve been planning against us a little bit. Sometimes they always leave a running back on my side, so that’s an extra pass rush I’ve got to get. You only have so many seconds to get to the ball.”

The Knights, overall, lack frequent sackers. Senior defensive tackle Jamil Merrell leads all active Knights with eight-career sacks.

Former Knights linebackers Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene graduated last year with 11.5- and 10-career sacks, respectively.

Thompson fits a recent Rutgers tradition of smaller, speedier defensive linemen, but head coach Kyle Flood said the system is not broken.

“We have over the course of the last nine years probably sacked or hit the quarterback a very high percentage of the time,” Flood said. “Sometimes that’s with one-on-one pass rush moves. Sometimes that’s with pressures as well.”


By Josh Bakan

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