Position Analysis: Defensive Tackles

The only returning starter on Rutgers' defensive line is defensive tackle Scott Vallone, which means the competition will be fierce in the spring. However, while Vallone may be the only proven player, the Scarlet Knights have plenty of young talent at the defensive tackle position.

When analyzing what happened to Rutgers the second half of 2010, especially on defense, it is impossible to look past the spinal cord injury suffered by Eric LeGrand.

The Scarlet Knights didn't win after LeGrand was injured Oct. 16 against Army, and the defense wasn't the same.

There were legitimate reasons for it, and none were bigger than the mental and psychological impact LeGrand's injury had on a group of 18 to 22 year old young men.

And, there was the physical loss of LeGrand, who was Rutgers' second-best defensive tackle behind Scott Vallone, and a leader along the defensive line.

Looking toward 2011, all the while hoping LeGrand will again walk, the interior of Rutgers' defensive line has talent, but is largely unproven once you move beyond Vallone, who will be a red-shirt junior in the fall.

Vallone had 44 tackles, including 6 ½ for loss, and was tied for second with five quarterback hits.

However, after that the Scarlet Knights will enter spring practice looking at the unknown.

The most anticipated arrival on defense comes in January in the form of 6-foot-3, 295-pound recruit Kenneth Kirksey. He was dominant at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy after not meeting NCAA eligibility requirements out of Mainland High in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Kirksey is expected to make an immediate impact, and taking part in spring practice will allow him to learn the defensive system and get acclimated to college life.

As the season progressed, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano spoke about the upside of red-shirt freshman Michael Larrow, who was moved from defensive end into the middle during the season. At 6-4, 252 pounds, Larrow needs to gain weight and strength and prove he can play with a low pad level, but he is athletic and manipulates his body well through blockers.

Red-shirt freshman Isaac Holmes, who is 6-3, 275 pounds, will also factor into the mix, but after that depth issues become a central theme.

Defensive end Justin Francis took snaps at defensive tackle last season after the injury to LeGrand, and there is the possibility freshman Taj Alexander plays defensive tackle, although a move to the offensive line, or playing defensive end, remain options.

Depending on how creative Rutgers wants to be, red-shirt freshman offensive guard Antwan Lowery can be flipped back to defensive tackle, and incoming freshman Djwany Mera, who is 6-3 and up to 265 pounds, could play defensive tackle despite being recruited to play defensive end.

Rutgers has oral commitments from Christopher Columbus High's (Bronx, N.Y.) Al Page and Sayreville High's (Parlin, N.J.) Daryl Stephenson.

Also, the Scarlet Knights are recruiting Raines High (Jacksonville, Fla.) defensive tackle Chris Jones, who is set to visit Jan. 28-30.

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