Unsung heroes play substantial roles in Rutgers' defensive line
Just over six minutes remained in the first quarter of the Rutgers football team’s matchup with New Mexico at High Point Solutions Stadium last Saturday when the visitors went for the first of three fourth-down conversion attempts they’d make throughout the contest.
The Lobos led 7-0 after a muffed punt gave them a second chance on their first drive of the game and, knowing the Scarlet Knights' struggles in the first quarter of their first two games of the season, looked to pounce on their hosts while they had the momentum.
But with just 1 yard to gain, New Mexico was stopped in its tracks, running back Tyrone Owens rushing for no gain as he was stuffed by junior nose tackle Sebastian Joseph and senior defensive end Julian Pinnix-Odrick at the line of scrimmage.
The tackle was the second of five that Joseph collected on the day — less than half of what teammates Pinnix-Odrick and senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton collected — but the standard stat didn’t take away from an outstanding performance.
“Sebastian really showed up in the interior runs that we had to try to stop against New Mexico (and) had a big part to do with a critical fourth-down stop stop and again I think he played his best game," said defensive coordinator Jay Niemann. "JPO and Darius get a lot of the discussion, it revolves around them, but there are others in there playing well also."
Joseph is a crucial component of a defensive line that head coach Chris Ash has called the strength of the team on multiple occasions, but along with senior defensive end Quanzell Lambert, Joseph doesn’t get as much attention as Pinnix-Odrick and Hamilton.
Lambert had the fourth most tackles for Rutgers against New Mexico and ranks ninth on the team in tackles through three games, but if you ask him to verify those numbers, he likely wouldn’t be able to.
“Just going out and do your job,” Lambert said of his approach to the game. “It’s not really about the stats for me … I really don’t even know my stats to be honest. I just go out there and play for the guys to my left and my right and behind me and all the people on the sideline and my family and everything ... what’s important right now is winning the game.”
Lambert signed with Rutgers as a four-star recruit and the sixth-ranked player in New Jersey in the heralded 2012 recruiting class, which also brought to the Banks Hamilton, who was the top recruit in the state in the class, and Leonte Carroo — the Knights’ all-time receiving touchdown leader now playing wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL.
Just as he was in the recruiting rankings, Lambert has been overshadowed by his colleagues despite putting up solid numbers — 81 tackles, five sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 39 career appearances — in the three seasons after redshirting and changing to the defensive end from inside linebacker.
The likely cause for the low amount of attention isn’t due to the lack of production, but rather in the way he’s produced on the field, in a fashion mirroring his demeanor — quietly and consistently.
“Quanzell, no one really talks about Quanzell, but he’s just a steady-eddy like I said in the spring,” Burnham said. “He just shows up, never busts, always in the right spot at the right time and generally, if there’s a play to be made, he’s made it.”
The oldest veteran member of the unit echoed the sentiments of his position coach and both of his teammates, repeating the importance of his two fellow starters on the defensive line.
“(Joseph) made a lot of plays in the backfield, was in position a lot, played with his hands probably the best that I’ve seen him play with his hands in a while." Hamilton said. "And I can’t say enough about Quanzell, he’s definitely an unsung hero ... He never really says much, you’ll never really hear Quanzell talk too much, but he comes to work (and) he’s probably one of the best at what he does week in and week out.”