Rutgers returns its top three linebackers from 2013, but all of them enter training camp in new roles. Bob Fraser returns to coach linebackers after two years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi has already had an impact in reshaping the group.
Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder bring veteran, impact presences to their new roles. Moving Snyder inside and Longa to the weakside puts both in the best position to use their skillsets in the 2014 season. Longa was enough of a tackling machine at the MIKE, and is now in a role where even more tackles are expected as a sophomore. Snyder is a natural leader and shot caller. He will welcome a role in the middle after coverage struggles in an unnatural position last season. Look for both to have strong seasons and anchor the Rossi defense.
Quentin Gause is well position to maintain the starting job he deserved much earlier in the 2013 season. Gause is a hard worker and one that always wants to learn more. Physically, Gause is impressive but the coverage roles at the starting SAM spot will be an adjustment. Expect growing pains early, especially after shutting down early in spring for injury reasons.
The starters at linebacker are set barring injuries, but the next two spots are completely up for grabs in training camp. Red-shirt freshman T.J. Taylor climbed the depth chart as the most improved player in spring on the defensive side of the ball. Sophomore L.J. Liston, however, was the first linebacker in when Gause went down in spring. Liston replaced Gause as the starter for the spring game, and has a small amount of in-game experience as a true freshman.
Red-shirt freshman Myles Nash is bulked up, and was also in the conversation to replace Gause in spring. Look for the South Jersey standout to find a role as a reserve this season. He cause problems in the passing game as a second-team spring linebacker, and that is best for business.
Freshman Brandon Russell got a head start by enrolling early in spring, and Sidney Gopre likely has a big future wearing the Rutgers uniform. Gopre was arguably the best defensive player in New Jersey in 2013, but should not be expected to contribute immediately. Gopre has to keep working, and get bigger, but his time will come. Freshman Eric Margolis will also need to bulk up in the summer workouts and camp.
Rutgers has a 2015 linebacker commitment from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall Deonte Roberts.
Linebacker will be the strength of the 2014 Rutgers defense when it comes to experience and impact players. Longa has all-conference potential in a role that serves him best. Rutgers, however, will need all three starters and more to adequately counter the rushing attacks of Big Ten teams. A new conference does not mean teams will stop passing against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have to be better prepared with the appropriate personnel matchups in clear passing situations.