The Facts – Converted defensive end Quanzell Lambert upped his production as a starter with 43 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and team-high 2.5 sacks while fifth-year senior Djwany Mera worked as a space eater with 22 tackles on the other side. Sophomore Kemoko Turay picked up two sacks and led Rutgers with 10 quarterback hurries. Red-shirt freshman Jimmy Hogan made five tackles in 10 games.
What Went Right – Lambert was arguably Rutgers’ most improved defender with what he did as a starter during the 2015 season. Lambert was more active on the other side of the line of scrimmage than any other defensive end and represents one of the best position changes under Kyle Flood’s watch. Jimmy Hogan developed well at defense end and earned a spot in the rotation moving forward. Mera served his role well as a run stuffer at a position not designed for big numbers.
What Went Wrong – An unhealthy Turay severely limited the Rutgers defense’s options on both special teams and the assault on opposing quarterbacks. Teams game-planned for Turay and shut him down after his breakout red-shirt freshman season in 2014. Players like Myles Nash and Darnell Davis Jr. that played well in training camp did not pick up as many in-game reps as they should have. Rutgers moves on without Marques Ford, who received his transfer release at the end of the season, but brings back Ron'Dell Carter as a young talent.
Something to Fix – It’s easier said than done but Rutgers simply needs better production out of the position and four- to five-man rotation. Rutgers needs to win more 1-on-1 battles because more pressure from the front four takes pressure off a young and often-challenged defensive secondary. Rutgers could not blitz often in 2014, and that left too much responsibility on the defensive ends.
The Ash Era – Does the hybrid “R” position still have a place at Rutgers? Rutgers has the personnel with lighter, speedier guys like Turay, Lambert and Nash but the position was not as productive in recent years. Defensive ends that drop back into coverage may work in the American Athletic Conference but it is a lot to ask in a division like the Big Ten East. If Ash wants to break the field into quarters, it may be best to do so with traditional power ends like he used with Arkansas and Ohio State.