Chris Ash Transition: Rutgers Linebackers

In the move to the Chris Ash era, Scarlet Report looks at each position in the 2015 season and the upcoming transition under a new coaching staff. Today, we shift focus to the defense, where Steve Longa’s departure creates bigger questions about an already-spotlighted group at linebacker.

The Facts – Outside linebackers Steve Longa and Quentin Gause led Rutgers with 117 and 96 tackles respectively in a combined 23 starters. Middle linebacker Kaiwan Lewis finished third on the team in tackles with 69 to go along with two interceptions. True freshman Deonte Roberts started one game and recorded four tackles. All three starting linebackers left the program at the end of the semester to pursue NFL opportunities.

What Went Right – Gause is an excellent Rutgers success story. The Rochester fifth-year senior never quit when he sat at the bottom of the depth chart. Gause bounced around at defensive end and fullback before he ultimately returned to outside linebacker for three solid seasons. Longa took home the team’s defensive player of the year award, but Scarlet Report’s goes to Gause for his on-field consistency and off-field excellence. Credit Roberts for a quick adjustment to the college game. He put on 30 pounds since high school and the speed remained strong. The weakside transition from Longa to Roberts will not be a significant downgrade.

What Went Wrong – Statistics are great but tackles can be misleading. Rutgers got some good games out of all three linebackers but not enough in what was one of the worst defensive seasons in Rutgers history. Pass coverage was an issue in the middle of the field and closing speed to the edge became inconsistent against good rushing offenses. The previous Rutgers defenses were at their best when linebackers made plays in the backfield. Rutgers only made 2.75 impact plays (sacks, TFLs, quarterback hurries) per game behind the line of scrimmage.

Something to Fix – Depth is a huge concern for Rutgers heading into spring practices. Be it position changes or late recruiting additions, Rutgers needs more bodies at linebacker because it barely has enough for a two-deep. Between offseason injury rehab for T.J. Taylor and other offseason work and three starters departed, coach Chris Ash does not have a lot with which to work.

The Ash Era – Ash is one of the great, young defensive minds in college football, so he needs a solution to depth concerns at the position. Former defensive coordinator Joe Rossi protected a young defensive secondary with his play-calling and it cost them a lot of big plays. Ash faces similar concerns at linebacker.

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