Spring Warm Up: Middle Linebacker 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 second biggest battle – middle linebacker.

It’s going to be a heated summer when talents clash in competition as Kevin Snyder’s replacement inside. Before Kaiwan Lewis throws his name into the mix during a summer session enrollment, two other Scarlet Knights battle for the right to begin training camp as the starting middle linebacker.

The Competition

L.J. Liston -- After two years as a backup and special teams guy, it could be a now or never spring for the athletic linebacker out of Flint, Mich. Two late additions show where Rutgers stands after the Snyder Departure, and Liston has two years in the Rutgers system. Liston brings hitting power, athleticism and vocal leadership but is a work in progress with the playbook under second-year coordinator Joe Rossi.

Isaiah Johnson -- Credit Rutgers for a great find at the last minute. With assistant Bob Fraser scouting another prospect at the same school, he found Johnson and aggressively recruited him. Johnson committed to Rutgers before a January official visit, and moved in for classes shortly thereafter. Johnson chose junior college in his transition from running back to middle linebacker. He is a smart linebacker that will communicate well for Rutgers. He hits the holes quickly against the run, and is Liston’s biggest competition at the position in spring practice.

Other Options -- Steve Longa was excellent inside as a red-shirt freshman, but who plays the WILL if Longa moves back to the middle? Longa may be the best overall option inside, but Rutgers needs him more on the weak side, where he exceeded 100 tackles as a sophomore. Quentin Gause has a small amount of experience at middle linebacker, but Lewis becomes the strongest summer competition when he arrives as a South Carolina graduate transfer.

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