Roberts, Morris use friendship to bolster on-field performance
In 2016, Deonte Roberts and Trevor Morris were the centerpieces of arguably the biggest weakness on a 2-10 Rutgers football team.
In 2017, the two junior linebackers hope to flip the script by combining a strong bond off the field with a dominating partnership between the lines.
The two combined for nearly 200 tackles last year, but with teams running the ball more than 46 times per game against the Scarlet Knights, those high numbers were inevitable.
When asked how a second year starting alongside Morris would help the play of the linebackers, Roberts, the starting middle linebacker, was quick to point out his friendship with his man on the outside.
"That's my boy. We hang out a lot so I feel the more our unit does that, the more we're able to gel."
With Tyreek Maddox-Williams out for the season with a torn ACL, the leadership of Roberts will be as crucial as ever, mentoring a brand-new starter and potentially a true freshman.
While the strongside linebacker is still a part of the linebacking core, it being a hybrid position yields whoever is in that spot to have unique responsibilities. Morris and Roberts will have more similar responsibilities and know how to go off one another in game situations.
"When we know somethings going on, I can just look at him and he's like 'I got you'. Feeding off each other, that's cool. I like that," Morris said.
There is no doubt that teams will continue to try and pound the ball against Rutgers this year, until the Knights prove they can stop the run.
After practice on Friday, defensive coordinator Jay Niemann did not hold back when asked what he wanted to improve most this year.
"Absolutely rushing defense. First on the list," the second-year man said.
That starts with Roberts, who is the most experienced of the linebackers and as the man in the middle, is the "quarterback of the defense."
With the added pressure to perform, Roberts is aware of the fact that he will need to have more presence as a leader on the defense.
"I feel like a lot of guys look at me as a leader. Especially (because) I'm the guy calling the plays, giving them the call and everything," he said. "I feel like a lot of leadership comes onto me and I embrace it."
Gone are excuses for inexperience and size, as Roberts now weighs in at 235 pounds with 13 starts while Morris is at 232 pounds with 11 starts. Expectations are higher for the Rutgers linebackers and the two of them are certainly on the same page.
In fact, they nearly had the exact same quotes when describing each other.
"I know him (like) the back of my hand he knows me like the back of his hand," Roberts said.
"Thats my boy," Morris added. "I feel like I know him (like) the back of my hand. We both know what we gotta do."