Spring Performance -- Merrell put in a strong spring, but got rest at the same time as a "sure thing" in the 2013 defense. Not needing to win reps in the spring, Merrell sat at times to give younger players a chance to develop but impressed on the field in scrimmages.
It was not a productive spring at tight end with Merrell leading the coverage and it took 10 practices for the running game to get going against the front seven.
Expected 2013 Role -- In addition to starting SAM linebacker, look for Merrell to be a vocal team leader and special teams weapon. Merrell's mix of length, speed and strength make him a unique weapon on block teams and represents the most experienced cog in a questionable group of linebackers.
Merrell is the lone returning starter among the linebackers and represents a veteran presence.
Scouting Report -- Merrell brings short-area quickness to the SAM and can handle the coverage responsibilities of his position. Merrell is a converted wide receiver and brings many of the qualities you would expect. His closing speed is impressive and ability to run on special teams make him a strong fit in the Rutgers defense.
After injury concerns earlier in his career, Merrell is surprisingly durable and played the majority of snaps at his position last year despite having Kevin Snyder behind him as a more-than-capable backup.
Merrell still does not look the part of a college linebacker. He has height at 6-foot-4 and bulked up from about 195 to 225 since his arrival in the program. To go from solid to an all-conference linebacker, Merrell needs to improve his ball disruption and consistency in hitting. The Rutgers scheme puts outside linebackers in play-making positions and Merrell is ready for a bigger role.
The Bottom Line -- Rutgers needs an anchor with the usual suspects from 2012 headed to the NFL. Merrell embodies the prototype of a Rutgers defender – leadership, development and special teams execution.