Competition fosters improvement on Rutgers defensive line
Junior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton can tell you any stat about any defensive player on the Rutgers football team.
He can also tell you about how displeased he is with where he finds himself among those statistics. Hamilton is upset because he ranks lower than some of his teammates on the defensive line and feels he needs to step up.
The displeasure comes from friendly competition that each defensive lineman has with one other. Hamilton said he is not obsessed with stats, but rather with consistently trying to compete with the rest of his team and get better.
“There’s a competition between the defensive line. I’m a little upset about myself falling behind [Dave Milewski] in sacks — I should still be in the lead,” Hamilton said. “Kemoko [Turay] is leading with sacks, and [Milewski] is right behind him and then I’m right behind them. [Milewski] is leading the team in [tackles for loss] with six and I’m right behind him with five. He can lead in one category, but he definitely can’t lead in two. I can’t be mad at him, I left the tackles out there. I just have to get on my grind and make some more big plays.”
But how could one imagine the Scarlet Knights getting much better in their front four? In the first four games they rank favorably compared to other teams in the nation.
The Knights’ defense leads the Big Ten with 17 sacks this season. That total also ranks seventh in the nation behind the likes of Texas, Washington and Baylor.
While sacks as a whole are attributed to the whole defense, as head coach Kyle Flood alludes to, much of the credit falls to the defensive line. The Knights’ defensive line accounts for nine of the team’s sacks.
The top-three pass rushers for Rutgers all happen to be defensive linemen.
The leader on the team in sacks is redshirt freshman defensive end Kemoko Turay. Turay has four sacks so far, which is tied for the lead in the Big Ten.
Turay said the competition among the defensive line is alive and well.
“The competition between us is very great. There are three defensive linemen who each have great ability and we each use it as something to keep us motivated, like who is going to have the most sacks,” Turay said. “We sometimes have a bet on it to see who ends the game with the most sacks. I say to myself, ‘If Darius gets a sack, I’m gonna have to go and get one, too.’ That’s what helps us get better as a defense and at the same time brings us together.”
Turay brings a unique story to the Rutgers defense. “The Dragon,” as his teammates and coaches call him, has played only three years of organized football but is called one of the best athletes and pass rushers on the team.
Although he is established as an athletic defensive end, Turay wants more.
Besides the motivation from competition with his peers statistically, he wants to adopt some of their skill sets that separate them from the other players at the position.
“[Hamilton and Milewski] are older guys and I to look up to them. Hamilton has great hands and that is what I am trying to work on. He gets a lot of tackles for loss and I’m trying to figure out what he does to do that,” Turay said. “Just like he tries to look at me and what I do to get to the quarterback. Milewski has hard work and effort. We each try to pick up each other’s ability to make each other better.”
Senior defensive end Dave Mileweski is in his first season as a starter after missing time each of his first four years with injury. He played in 12 games last season but only started one game.
Milewski said he is all about the defense, specifically the defensive line, doing its job. When that happens, all the good things the Knights have been doing defensively this season are possible, he said.
“Ultimately, all it comes down to is if you do your job, then we’ll all make plays,” Milewski said. “That’s the thing about it, if we all do our job, sacks will come, TFLs will come and that’s the thing we really understand. We trust the system and a lot of us have been successful so far.”
While Turay said he is interested in learning from the rest of the defensive line in order to make himself better, Milewski said trying to pick up Turay’s and Hamilton’s game is a little harder for him to do.
“See, some of the things Kemoko do, nobody can do. Those kinds of things I really can’t learn from,” Milewski said. “But some of the angles he takes, I try to imagine myself in that situation and develop those skills in myself. Same with Darius, the way he uses his hands and plays with emotion, I’m trying to do that. But I think collectively, the whole is better than the individuals.”
For Turay, it is 17 sacks and counting. He said that the numbers are going to keep growing for the defense and could approach all-time highs this season.
And with those types of numbers that Turay thinks the defense is capable of, it will also go a long way to help in recruiting and proving that the Knights belong in the Big Ten, he said.
“We’re going to keep on doing it and getting to the quarterback. We’re going to keep on breaking records and leading the defensive records like sacks,” Turay said. “Sacks, that’s a good thing. That shows us to a lot of young kids that we are motivated going into the Big Ten. It shows Rutgers has ability and good class. It’s something to be very proud of in the Big Ten. It’s something special.”
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