Merrell lends hand at tackle
Scott Vallone is sore. He usually is following Saturdays in the trenches, but after returning to nose tackle from the three-technique position for the Rutgers football team against Connecticut, Vallone is more aware of it.
“Do I have a preference? I liked what we were doing earlier in the season, playing both. But this is what it is,” Vallone said yesterday. “We’re doing well, and I’m going to have to do what the duty is.”
Junior Isaac Holmes’ season-ending wrist injury prompted that duty, but the emergence of junior Jamil Merrell at defensive tackle could provide a silver lining. Merrell, a former defensive end, returned to three-technique — lining up on the outside shoulder of a guard — against UConn after playing there in the spring.
Merrell recorded five tackles Saturday — tops among defensive linemen — and one for a loss, along with a quarterback hurry.
“I would say I’m used to it,” Merrell said of the change. “Coaches tell me I’m versatile. As long as I’m in the game and starting, I’m comfortable with it.”
Merrell leads the Scarlet Knights’ front four with 15 tackles this season, with 2.5 for a loss and a sack.
He was part of a defensive tackle rotation Saturday that included two players making their first appearances of the season. Sophomore Kenneth Kirksey sat out the first four games because of injury, while junior Michael Larrow returned following a four-game suspension.
Senior Marvin Booker, meanwhile, saw his first snaps at defensive end since the Knights’ Sept. 1 season opener, and redshirt freshman Max Issaka earned more looks.
They join the Knights’ starters along with senior middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais as edge rushers. But how defensive coordinator Robb Smith distributes playing time moving forward remains to be seen.
“Other than the established players, it’s going to be another competition this week to see who fights for the extra reps,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “But the guys that did play would have an opportunity to play again this week. How much will get determined as we go through the week.”
Vallone’s role remains unquestioned.
After starting his Big East-best 43rd straight game, Vallone provides the Knights their only legitimate nose tackle starter with his 6-foot-3, 275-pound frame. And since he played there in spurts earlier this season, his only adjustment could be dealing with added aches.
“Having Scott at the nose guard spot is probably the best thing for us as a defense,” Flood said.
The Knights coaching staff continues to monitor freshman kicker Kyle Federico’s injury, which he suffered Saturday on a kickoff, Flood said.
The team tried out a walk-on kicker yesterday morning, along with its usual in-house candidates. Flood did not set a pecking order at the position and planned to meet yesterday with special teams coordinator Joe Rossi.
“It’s still up in question right now,” Flood said.
Sophomore Nick DeLouisa missed his only PAT attempt Saturday after replacing Federico, while redshirt freshman Anthony DiPaula took over kickoff duties. Should Federico return against Syracuse, he will not kick off, Flood said.
Flood said he does not think PAT attempts will be an issue in Federico’s absence.
“I think probably where it has its biggest effect is that area of the field where you’re trying to decide [if] are you trying a 50-yard or 40-yard field goal,” he said. “You have to figure out what the top end of his range is and game plan accordingly.”
Junior Paul Carrezola moved to first-team fullback yesterday after Flood released the team’s depth chart, at least temporarily replacing sophomore Sam Bergen.
Bergen suffered an injury on a kick return Saturday, but Flood expects him to return to practice today.
Carrezola, a tight end, lines up in a number of locations in coordinator Dave Brock’s offense.
“We do a lot of things with Paul because he has that type of skill set,” Flood said, “and that will be the case this week.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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