Longa a Fast Learner

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers redshirt freshman Steve Longa is halfway through his first training camp as a starting middle linebacker. Preparing to make his first career start against Fresno State, Longa projects to be the first to man the middle since three-year starter Steve Beauharnais.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Learning the plays was the first step for Steve Longa, who is now two weeks away from starting his first game in a Rutgers uniform.

Longa moved to middle linebacker, where he projects to replace Steve Beauharnais, and sees daily improvement at training camp.

"Getting better is always exciting," Longa said. "I'm getting a big opportunity. I'm making some mistakes on the field, but part of the learning process is to learn not to do it. It's very good."

Longa practiced at both weakside and strongside linebacker during his redshirt season. With Khaseem Greene headed to the NFL, however, junior Kevin Snyder filled the WILL role and put Longa in position to run the defense inside.

Longa played running back and linebacker for Saddle Brook (N.J.) High and the adjustment to big-time college football was tough as a true freshman.

"I'm way more comfortable this year," he said. "It's not even close. I came prepared. This summer, I was a little hesitant and now I'm feeling good. I like it.

"On this defense, there aren't a lot of differences between a WILL and a MIKE. If you look at us, it's like we have two middle linebackers in what we do. It doesn't differ that much, just little bits of it when we go into cover-2 and little stuff like that. You just have to get used to the little things and get used to being a leader out there."

The biggest change for Longa in his new role comes in the responsibilities. A middle linebacker cannot be complacent and Longa feels ready to lead with his words.

"You're obligated to do stuff," he said. "You can't be quiet. You have to lead the defense. You have to be vocal. When you talk, everybody will listen to you if you work hard. You have to make the right calls for the coaches. It's up to me if we have to check out of a blitz or something. You have to be vocal."

Longa positioned himself to start at middle linebacker with a strong start to training camp. Still learning the playbook, Longa said he frequently turns to Beauharnais.

"We talk all the time," Longa said. "I just talked to him the other day about something I didn't understand. I asked him a question about how he played a certain call and he told me exactly how it worked for him last year. We talk a lot, and I'm happy that things are going well for him. He's what I'm hoping to be in a few years."

Longa could be a multi-year starter inside just like Beauharnais, but not for the same reasons. First-year defensive coordinator Dave Cohen sees a different type of athlete in Longa after working with both as linebackers coach last season.

"He's a different player than Beauharnais was," Cohen said. "Forget the experience. Steve [Beauharnais] was a head coach on the field, whereas Steven Longa is still learning. Longa is a more explosive blitzer and a little more active coming off the edge where Beauharnais was a prototypical middle linebacker."

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