Jumping around from multiple positions, including defensive line and wide receiver, Merrell moved to strongside linebacker last season and met the position with immediate success. Heading into the spring as a first-teamer, Merrell feels at home as a linebacker.
"I didn't always, but now I know it's the perfect fit for me," Merrell said. "I feel like a linebacker. I love being a part of this defense. It's what I do best."
Merrell is using the spring to grab as many reps with the first team as possible. With senior linebacker Khaseem Greene (leg) out for the spring, Merrell and sophomore Kevin Snyder each earned starts and received heavy workloads in Saturday's scrimmage.
"It's a learning process," Merrell said. "It shows you that anybody can go down at any point. Nobody is invincible. We know that if he's not on the field, we have to step up our game because he's a big part of our defense. We feel that it's good preparation now in case something happens with one of our starters."
Through five practices, Merrell said the linebackers look good even without Greene. The first scrimmage, however, was the true test. Merrell helped the front seven hold first-team running backs to 2.8 yards per carry.
"The spring is going really good," he said. "It's just another learning process. I'm soaking up what I can to make myself better. I'm learning a lot.
"The best part is really the opportunity to get on the field and just make plays. I like to cover people and use my speed and my talent. I just take it all and put it together the best way I can."
With Greene watching most drills from the sidelines, Merrell said he turns to senior middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais and new position coach Dave Cohen for advice and tips.
"Steve has always been the most helpful figure to me," Merrell said. "He works with everybody else on the defense because that's just his role. He has to do that as a leader of the defense."
Cohen joined the program shortly after coach Kyle Flood's hiring. The former head coach at Hofstra, Cohen most recently worked as the defensive coordinator at Western Michigan.
"Coach Cohen, he's just funny, outgoing, good energy," Merrell said. "I love his energy. I'm just learning from him more and more each day. ... Energy wise, he's always outgoing. I'm getting to know him more and learning a lot. He's a good guy."
The help, Merrell said, goes both ways.
"It's funny because he's new too, so we're all helping each other," Merrell said. "He's teaching us the little things and things about linebacker and I'm teaching him stuff too. He's still learning our personalities and getting used to Rutgers. He offers us a lot to learn."