Past Experience — It took a long time for Merrell to see the field because of multiple foot injuries during his first two seasons. When healthy, he instantly broke into the eight-man line rotation and registered six starts at the end of 2011. Merrell had 18 tackles and a sack last season as a key figure behind veteran defensive linemen Manny Abreu and Justin Francis.
As a Recruit — Merrell was considered the bigger prospect of the twins coming out of Hodgson Vo-Tech (Bear, Del.) and committed alongside his brother Jamal Merrell in December of his senior year. He initially came to Rutgers with the idea of playing linebacker or defensive end and ranked in as a three-star recruit and No. 17 in the nation at weakside linebacker by Scout.com.
Spring Performance — Merrell put up an impressive spring while working at both defensive end and tackle. The junior was one of the defensive stars of the spring game with his ability to break into the backfield and draw reactions from the crowd for big hits.
Does Well — Merrell packs a punch and has a nice mix of strength and athleticism as a defensive end. Versatility to the program is his greatest gift, with the ability to work solidly on the edge and excel in pass-rush situations as a defensive tackle.
The fact that Merrell earned a starting spot midway through last year after missing almost two full years with a series of nagging injuries shows his natural talents at the position and the need for defensive ends in the Rutgers system. But under a new head coach and defensive coordinator, Merrell will have to re-earn all of his reps like the rest of the defense.
Needs to Improve — There were times in 2011 where Merrell was just another guy on the field. With depth lost and fewer veteran presences on the defensive line this season, he will have to step up his consistency and improve as a pass rusher off the edge.
Merrell is not yet an imposing pass rusher from the outside and only generates pressure on the quarterback when lining up inside for specific packages. Staying healthy for a full season is another key to success.
Long-Term Outlook — Barring injury, there is no question Merrell will be a big player in the defensive-line rotation for coordinator Robb Smith this season. He has the versatility to fill in at multiple positions. Expect him to see time on first and second down at defensive end and also work at tackle on third-and-long situations.