Spring Surprises: Defense

Spring practice is in the books for Rutgers and coach Kyle Flood. Strong against the run through 15 practices, the Rutgers defense had multiple pleasant surprises that carry meaning into training camp and summer workouts.

Looking back at a 15-practice long spring campaign for Rutgers, ScarletReport.com ranks the five most significant performances on the defensive side of the ball. Rankings are compiled based on a player's individual improvement and its value to the defense come kickoff.

5.) Cornerback Gareef Glashen -- Much of Glashen's time at Rutgers has been spent waiting for the switch to flip. Glashen picked Rutgers over Syracuse late in recruiting but never pushed for playing time until this spring.

Glashen put up a solid spring and held a starting job through 15 practices and showed enough that he should expect playing time heading into the season.

4.) Nose Tackle Kenneth Kirksey -- Kirksey got a clean bill of health in the early part of camp and never looked back. Battling foot issues for the majority of two years, Kirksey stepped into a starting nose tackle role and was successful against the run.

With Isaac Holmes shut down at the midway point in spring, Kirksey took over the first-team job and the defensive line did not miss much. No Scott Vallone means Rutgers needs more depth inside and Kirksey made a statement this spring.

3.) Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton -- Bigger, faster, stronger, the former five-star prospect made a smooth transition into a starting position this spring. With Jamil Merrell moving back to defensive end, Hamilton is the lone 3-technique with playing experienced and performed well this spring at the position.

Up nearly 15 points from his high school weight, Hamilton is more consistent in his strength against guards and continues to display elite technique. Look for him to be one of the top impact guys on the defense in 2013.

2.) Linebacker Steve Longa -- Longa stepped up as the "third guy" alongside starters Jamal Merrell and Kevin Snyder at linebacker. Longa moved to middle linebacker early in camp and is now the expected successor to NFL draft pick Steve Beauharnais.

Lester Liston and Quanzell Lambert remain in the race for major playing time, but Longa's emergence and ability to make play calls at middle linebacker stood out as one of the surprises of spring defensively.

1.) Cornerback Ian Thomas -- The move to cornerback came at the suggestion of Logan Ryan and paid off instantly. Thomas, struggling to even get scout team reps at receiver, moved to defensive back in bowl practices and quickly rose to one of the top options on the roster.

Thomas flips his hips well in coverage, has above-average ball skills and showed an unexpected physical side in spring camp.

In 15 days of spring practices, Thomas went from the fifth or sixth corner on the roster to the star of camp and a legitimate option to start alongside Tejay Johnson in training camp.

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