Thompson settles in at defensive end
Marcus Thompson was quite the nomad for the Rutgers football team in less than two seasons in Piscataway.
After playing at two Florida high schools, the sophomore arrived at Rutgers as a linebacker, played some defensive end, and then switched to fullback during spring practices.
Now exclusively at defensive end, head coach Greg Schiano finally senses some security for Thompson.
“I think what he did is he found a position he’s comfortable at,” Schiano said. “All we had to do was find him a place where he could let his abilities take over. I think we found it.”
At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, Thompson always had the physical gifts to excel at the college level. It was just a matter of finding a spot for him, said junior defensive tackle Scott Vallone.
“I think that’s why you saw him moving so much because they weren’t really sure where they wanted to put all his talent,” Vallone said. “Once he gets it down mentally, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
Vallone referred to Thompson as “a freakazoid” physically, and junior defensive end Ka’Lial Glaud said he is one of the fastest players on the team.
Thompson’s role as a defensive lineman now places a premium on shedding blocks instead of delivering them when he was at fullback.
By all accounts, the Oakland Park, Fla., native does not lack the necessary confidence in doing so.
“I like it now,” Thompson said. “I love taking on fullbacks, especially when I don’t have to spell a play. I love doing that because they can’t really stop me.”
Thompson registered half a sack in the Scarlet Knights’ season-opening victory against North Carolina Central as part of a five-man rotation at defensive end.
But with junior Marvin Booker nursing a leg injury, Thompson saw an increase in repetitions against North Carolina and will likely face the same assignment Saturday against Ohio.
“It feels real good. I feel comfortable out there,” he said. “I love going out there and hitting something. No matter if I make the play or not, I just love going out there and hitting. Even if I have to turn the play back to my fellow d-linemen or linebackers to make the play, I’m a team player.”
Thompson played mostly running back in high school because of his athleticism, he said, and earned the No. 82 rating nationally by Rivals.com at the position. He ranked No. 77 at linebacker.
While he looks the part of an imposing defensive end, Thompson had to re-learn the Knights’ defensive schemes after moving back from the offensive side of the ball.
“The hardest part was learning the techniques,” he said. “I’m still learning and adjusting to d-end because I really wasn’t used to it. But I’m getting more used to it and techniques. It wasn’t as hard, but it’s different.”
Thompson routinely turns to senior Justin Francis, who made the move to defensive tackle during training camp after spending the previous three years at defensive end.
Francis, from Opa-Locka, Fla., played high school football only a half hour away from Thompson’s Boyd Anderson High School.
He and Francis usually “see eye-to-eye” as the defensive line’s resident Floridians, Thompson said.
“I turn to Justin Francis, [senior defensive end] Manny Abreu, Vallone,” Thompson said. “They’re the older guys, so I look up to them, especially Justin Francis. He teaches me a lot and shows me tips. He’s really been helpful to me, and I really look up to him.”
With an improved knowledge of defensive line coach Phil Galiano’s fronts, Thompson said the coaches’ encouragement in practice sold him that his latest move to defensive end was a permanent one.
“He keeps making improvements,” Schiano said. “The only way I know to get better is keep playing, so we’ll keep playing him.”
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