Position Analysis: Defensive ends

Rutgers' starting defensive ends combined to register six sacks in 2010, and the lack of pressure from the edges left a void in the defense. The player with the most experiencing returning for 2011 is Justin Francis, but there are some interesting options for the 2011 season.

One of the glaring deficiencies of Rutgers defense was an inability of the defensive ends to get to the quarterback with regularity.

Senior Justin Freeny had half-a-sack, and while senior Alex Silvestro excelled in helping contain the running game, he amassed a team-leading 5 ½ sacks.

Both are gone as Rutgers looks to rebuild its defensive line, especially on the edges, and there is plenty of opportunity for unproven players to make an impact.

The most promising underclassmen from 2010 was fourth-year junior Justin Francis, whose play during the second half of the season was one of the few exciting developments for the defensive ends.

Francis showed an ability to drop into coverage, which led to an interception at South Florida, as well has play at the point of attack against the run and get to into the backfield as he finished with two sacks and four tackles for loss.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Francis should enter spring practice with a leg up in the completion, but after that, there will be plenty of opportunity, as well as the potential for a few interesting options, for the Scarlet Knights.

Red-shirt sophomore-to-be Jamil Merrell would have logged plenty of time in 2010 if not for a variety of injuries suffered during the season, and he should be in the mix.

Michigan transfer Anthony La Lota, who joined Rutgers shortly after the start of training camp, is a possibility, provided he remains at defensive end and isn't switched to the offensive line, where he excelled in high school.

And while red-shirt sophomore-to-be Junior Solace has plenty of time left in his career, it is a vital spring for him as he tries to make a move on the depth chart and prove he can play at a Big East level.

Beyond those players come the real interesting decisions for the coaching staff.

Last offseason there was constant discussion about strongside linebacker Manny Abreu moving to defensive end, and he told members of his former Union (N.J.) Hill High coaching staff he thought it would happen.

However, he remained at linebacker, and was off to a strong start before a knee injury Oct. 16 against Army sidelined him for a few weeks. Even when he returned, he didn't look like the same player, and had trouble in coverage.

At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, he already has the body to play defensive end, but an elongated learning curve at linebacker could be a sticking point in a move to the line.

Also, freshman Marcus Thompson began his first season at linebacker, moved to defensive end for a short time, then was shifted back to linebacker when that unit was depleted by injury. At 6-2, 240 pounds, Thompson, like Abreu, has the body to play defensive end.

The lack of a proven defensive end will also allow walk-ons Joe Falato and Shane Meisner to make an impression, and incoming freshman Djwany Mera could factor into the depth chart because of his development as a post-graduate at Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Va.).

Mera was set to red-shirt last season at Rutgers, but was academically ineligible because of a test score. He received the needed ACT score a month ago, and will enroll in January.

And Mera will be coming to Rutgers \next month a lot bigger than he would have in June. While at Hargrave, the 6-3 Mera put on 35 pounds and weighs 265. He also developed his technique, especially the use of his hands in keeping them off offensive linemen to go with an already explosive first step.

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