. Jamal Merrell and Kevin Snyder are ahead of the curve with significant in-game experience at linebacker but Longa and three others get the chance to earn the final starting spot and significant playing time in the 2013 season.
"That was my goal, coming in and trying to get the starting job as early as I could," Longa said. "It's not surprising where I am now because I knew I could do it."
Longa could have played as an emergency linebacker last season, but he became one of the 14 true freshmen to redshirt the season. He practiced with the varsity much of last season and also played a role on the scout team. Longa is far along in his physical development, but said learning the plays comes first.
"During the summer time, I was just new so I had to learn everything as fast as I could," Longa said. "I had to learn all of the plays 100 percent so I could know the playbook in the offseason and come here and contribute. I learned so much [while redshirting] and I feel a lot more comfortable on the field."
Longa views his redshirt year as a best-case scenario given his inexperience upon arrival. Coming from a small program, Saddle Brook, the chance to learn under Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene was significant.
Beauharnais and Greene are now preparing for the NFL draft, however, and Longa is preparing to replace them as an impact player on the Rutgers defense.
"They taught me a lot," Longa said. "They taught me to relax on the field and trust my assignments. You have to get every single play right and strive for perfection. ... It's going to be different without them, but I'm still doing the same things. It doesn't affect the way I play."
Longa continues to work closely with Dave Cohen, who moved up from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator during the offseason.
"I just need to show [Cohen] that he can trust me," Longa said. "He needs to be confident with me on the field. I have to show that I'm physical and can play against all these guys. Trust is No. 1.
Longa checks into spring as a second-team weakside linebacker behind Snyder. He spent his first practice there and will continue to see a major role on the young Rutgers defense.
"It was definitely helpful getting out there," Longa said. "All of the time you spend in the meeting rooms and studying film only gets you so far and it's about getting out there and practicing it. It was good to finally get back.
"We made a lot of mistakes. We have to move forward and clean up. We have to adjust. My goal is to leave every practice a better football player than I was the day before."