The Rutgers defense took a step back from its brand of low scores, swarming tactics and turnovers during 2013, and coach Kyle Flood promoted Joe Rossi to make the quick fixes.
The early outlook in spring is a dynamic front seven and heavy questions in the still-young secondary.
This is the best defensive line on paper that Rutgers has seen in a while, but will it be enough with the stakes raised in a conference famous for beefy offensive lines?
Rutgers needs to remain strong against the run, but the real challenge will be creating pressure off the edge. The Scarlet Knights need to find ways to get to the quarterback after averaging just 2.5 per game last year. Rutgers needs to find dynamic pass rushers.
Star Watch -- DT Darius Hamilton – Hamilton is sick of the size questions, and showed that size matters not with the way he finished as a sophomore. He was a Scout.com five-star for a reason, and only looked better during spring practices. Hamilton could have picked any school in the country as his home, but stayed in-state and is going to be reward with a premiere role in a premiere football conference.
Underrated -- DE Djwany Mera – The longer he flies under the radar, the better. Mera was one of Rutgers' most consistent defensive linemen over the last 12 months. He "Wally Pipped" Jamil Merrell as a starter last year, and never looked back. Mera will not be a double-digit sack guy, but he does his job well, and is a force against the run.
Something to Prove-- DT Kenneth Kirksey – Explosive, competitive, strong. Kirksey has the tools, but staying healthy is an issue. He has been shut down with injuries multiple times already. Kirksey stayed healthy and active during the spring. He has to do it again in training camp as the projected starter at nose tackle.
Wildcard -- DE Kemoko Turay – Turay won't have a huge role this year because he still has a lot to learn. Put him on the field in a situation where his only job is to hit the quarterback, however, and something exciting is going to happen.
Rutgers returns its top three linebackers from last season, and flipped Kevin Snyder and Steve Longa to optimize production the MIKE and WILL. A strong crop of linebackers should be able to find more success in the Big Ten, where the spread and speed games are less widespread.
Star Watch -- OLB Steve Longa – The first middle linebacker at Rutgers to exceed 100 tackles since Gary Brackett, look for even more plays with a move to the weak side. WILL was the initial plan for Longa, who played behind Khaseem Greene as a true freshman.
Underrated -- OLB Quentin Gause – Despite one start to Jamal Merrell's nine, Gause out-produced him at the position during his first season of significant action. Gause was a show-stopped against Arkansas, which is a similar look to many of the Big Ten offense the Scarlet Knights will see this season. He needs to bounce back from a spring injury, and significantly improve his pass coverage, but the tools are there.
Something to Prove -- MLB Kevin Snyder --
Wildcard -- OLB Myles Nash – The red-shirt freshman turned a lot of heads this spring with his bulked up physique and aggressive ball skills. Nash got his hand on the football more than most defensive backs during spring camp. Nash needs to add more weight and strength before being an every-down guy, but he will have a role this season. Nash is also an ideal fit on field goal block, similarly to Jamal Merrell over the last two years.
Star Watch -- CB Ian Thomas – It's tough to label one standout in the secondary. Thomas was the top corner this spring, and can only expect increased responsibilities this summer. Thomas will have to earn his way back after quitting the team last season, and continue to make up for lost time during his three months away from the team.
Underrated -- CB/S Delon Stephenson – Wherever he ends up, that position will have a competitive athlete with all-conference potential. Stephenson has always wanted to be a safety, and would push Johnathan Aiken for the free safety spot immediately if he returned there. Rutgers used him mostly at cornerback this spring because of injuries. If Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi take steps forward and the true freshmen show enough in camp, Stephenson would be better suited at safety.
Something to Prove -- SS Lorenzo Waters – Waters was inconsistent as the veteran component of last season's secondary. Opponents exploited his coverage abilities at the position, and he came under the crosshairs because of his veteran presence on one of the youngest secondaries in the country. He is a beast against the run, and is set for a career game against Navy this year, but the safety position is a lot more than run support.
Wildcard -- SS Davon Jacobs – Half linebacker and half safety during his career, Jacobs is one of the most impressive weight room guys in the program. He knows how to play in the box after backing up at outside linebacker, and he improved in coverage during spring practices. Rutgers is thin at safety regardless of where Stephenson ends up. Jacobs has starter potential at a more natural safety position.