Look for the loser of the middle linebacker battle – either Kaiwan Lewis or Isaiah Johnson – to work multiple roles as the fourth linebacker. Rutgers does not rotate linebackers as much as it does with defensive lineman and defensive backs. Freshman Deonte Roberts could push for a spot if Rutgers needs other outside linebackers in the mix. He played well in spring, and is already 30 pounds heavier than he was as a senior at Brooklynn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall.
Storyline Central -- Rutgers has two of the best outside linebackers in the Big Ten, so it’s time to play like it. Longa and Gause enter their third year as starters, and the best way for Rutgers to improve against the run is with elite linebacker play. Longa remains at weakside linebacker in search of his third straight 100-tackle season. Gause provided Rutgers with solid performance since he overtook Jamal Merrell’s job as a sophomore.
Prospect Development -- Gause is gone at the end of the year, and Longa faces his own NFL decision after four years in the Scarlet Knights’ program. It’s time to prepare the next generation.
Roberts and converted-fullback Devan Carter have the early edge for practice reps after sophomore T.J. Taylor tore his ACL in the offseason. Rutgers added Malvern (Pa.) Prep linebacker Trevor Morris in May as another outside linebacker option. Morris needs time in the weight room before he sees the field, but told Scout he is eager to learn under Gause this season. Red-shirt freshman Brandon Russell could see some reps at outside linebacker, but is primarily an inside guy.
Preseason Grade -- A – Rutgers has two NFL-caliber prospects with multiple years of starting experience. Longa and Gause are as reliable, and dangerous, as any pair of outside linebackers in the Big Ten.