The Competition -- Junior college transfer Isaiah Johnson built himself a solid lead in the middle linebacker battle. He arrived last semester in assertive fashion, and quickly gelled with the rest of the linebackers. Johnson showcased big-play ability in scrimmages – something coach Kyle Flood always rewards – and finished off his first spring with a solid Friday night showing.
Johnson’s competition – Kaiwan Lewis – transfers into Rutgers next week after he graduates at South Carolina. Lewis is a slight underdog because of his late arrival, but the former SEC starting linebacker did not pick Rutgers for his senior year so he could sit on the bench.
Storyline Central -- Middle linebacker at Rutgers could be a rare case of instant improvement from last season. A turf-toe-addled Kevin Snyder played a tough, albeit limited, 12 games with no viable backup to spell him.
Rutgers now has two viable options in Johnson and Lewis, and either one is an upgrade over last season’s options after Snyder’s injury.
Prospect Development -- Rutgers has multiple 2016 commitments capable of middle linebacker, but also has an option already in the program in Brandon Russell out of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School. The 210-pound red-shirt freshman needs a full camp worth of practices after injuries limited him in spring practice. Russell has enough versatility to contribute on special teams or outside linebacker, but a year as the third-string MIKE is best for business.
Preseason Grade -- B – Football experience is no concern inside, but experience within the Rutgers system remains limited. Lewis has three years of SEC experience under his belt, and Johnson played for two years at the junior college level before he enrolled in spring. What they need now is time, time to learn the Joe Rossi system and build chemistry with new teammates.