New coach and players add interest to Rutgers linebacker unit
The Rutgers football team has now settled into the thick of things during spring practices, as head coach Chris Ash, his coaching staff and players have just finished the ninth spring practice of the season.
With less than two weeks to go until the annual Scarlet-White game on April 14, things should be starting to look a little clearer for the Scarlet Knights when it comes to the depth chart — specifically, looking at any significant progress players have made in the offseason since training first began the week before spring break.
Looking at the defensive side of the ball, outside linebackers coach Toby Neinas is making his return to working on the field this season, after spending the past two years up in the offices as the director of player personnel.
“Every day when I get to go into the room with the guys I'm working with right now, I really enjoy being in there to coach, but also just listening to their thoughts and gathering their information. Some of the things that I thought I had done well as a coach for 15 years, I'm learning ways to improve (them) from sitting in the room with these guys,” Neinas said.
Neinas has some experience on the field prior to coming to Rutgers, spending three seasons as special team coordinator at Colorado, while also being a part of the coaching staffs at Montana State, New Mexico and San Diego State.
Neinas is already familiar with Ash, having worked with him while they were both a part of Aztec nation.
“I worked with Chris Ash 10 years ago at San Diego State. I wasn't with him very long, and I figured out this guy was a little different, you know, this guy sees a little bit more than the rest of us see, he was a little sharper," Neinas said.
Neinas already has two interesting situations to deal with during spring practices.
Junior defensive back Malik Dixon will need to be incorporated into the linebacker unit in his first year on the Banks, after spending his previous playing time at Eastern Arizona Community College in the secondary.
“You can tell he's got a lot of DB skills, and he's been trained as a third-level defender. But we're asking him to play a bit closer to the line of scrimmage, so he's going through an adjustment period right now," Neinas said.
At the same time, Neinas will have to reincorporate linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams into the rotation as well, after the sophomore missed all of last season with an injury he suffered during 2017 summer camp.
Maddox-Williams said that he feels that spring is going well and that it is helping him adjust to rejoining the team.
“It's moving fast, but I'm able to get in with the team and do things well. I feel good through it, so everybody's looking good right now,” Maddox-Williams said.
In 2016 as a freshman, the 6-foot 232-pound Maddox-Williams played in 11 games, with six starts at strong-side linebacker and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team after racking up 47 tackles, a pass break up and a blocked punt.
Now coming to the outside, Maddox-Williams is ready for the adjustment period and is excited for what the change brings to his game.
“My position is a little different, but it just allows me to be more in the run and in the pass, so I can do more at the position,” he said.
As a team, the Knights had 937 tackles last season, with 16 sacks and 12 interceptions to go along with them.
Rutgers only has six spring practices remaining on its schedule, so the grind to get better will continue to get harder as the players get ready for the Scarlet-White game, as well as summer camp.
Neinas acknowledged that the process to how he’s gotten here isn’t easy and that he is lucky, and most importantly, thankful.
“I’m very grateful to Chris Ash and to (Athletic Director) Pat Hobbs for allowing me the opportunity to coach here. It’s hard to get a coaching job in this profession, and if you look at my track record, you know I’ve moved around a lot. So, I’m very grateful," Neinas said.