Spring Warm Up: Nose Tackle Battle

As we prepare for spring practice, Scarlet Report counts down the top five position battles for Rutgers football. Position battles rarely end in spring, but are critical when it comes to player development. We look now at the fifth-biggest battle – nose tackle.

Rutgers loses its top two 2014 nose tackle options in Kenneth Kirksey and Daryl Stephenson. Both could have returned for 2015, but chose to move on with life.

Defensive line coach Jim Panagos’ unit is a deep rotation for all four positions, but least proven at the nose where only sophomore Sebastian Joseph has real in-game experience.

The Competition

Sebastian Joseph -- Joseph has nose tackle experience, but he was better behind Darius Hamilton at the three-technique last season. Joseph is beyond physically imposing, but needs a full camp as a first-time guy before he can step into Kirksey’s shoes. Experience gives Joseph the advantage in spring practice. He played as a true freshman before injuries shut him down. As a red-shirt freshman, Joseph worked at both interior line positions in 13 games including the Detroit Quick Lane Bowl. Joseph is the ideal raw clay for a Big Ten defensive lineman. Panagos and new graduate assistant Scott Vallone now have to mold him. Joseph's biggest area for improvement comes in his assignments, where he occasionally mis-read the situation in on-field opportunities.

Kevin Wilkins -- Wilkins could be the future of the position as a 300-pounder in Big Ten football. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that both Joseph and Wilkins get plenty of time in spring and even more during the season. Wilkins was the top New Jersey get for coach Kyle Flood in his 2014 recruiting class for a reason. Even with a late arrival to training camp, he almost won playing time as a true freshman. He could be one of the biggest names to come out of spring practice at a position in need of new blood. Wilkins has the explosion, but has room for improvement with his technique.

Other Options -- Red-shirt freshman Eric Wiafe could get a look at the nose, but he is more of a defensive end or three-technique right now. He’s another guy that could push 300 pounds. But at 6-foot-5 and still raw in his development, Wiafe is a better fit behind Hamilton in the defensive line rotation. Walk-on Razohnn Gross is a two-year scout-team nose tackle. Well below six feet tall and 250 pounds, it is an uphill battle to real playing time.

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