Linebacker was already a thin unit for the Rutgers defense after it graduated three starters from last year.
Now the Scarlet Knights face a new set of questions at the position ahead of their Big Ten opener against Iowa on Saturday.
With sophomore Najee Clayton out for unspecified personal reasons, Rutgers shuffled sophomore Ronnie James from safety and moved true freshman Tyreek Williams in as co-backups to fifth-year senior walk-on Greg Jones at the strong side.
Coach Chris Ash dissected the depth at unit and said Rutgers would not experiment with freshmen at the position outside of Williams.
“Right now, there’s only one freshman linebacker that we would consider ready to play in a game,” Ash said. “That’s Tyreek Williams. He’s playing on special teams right now and is getting some reps in at linebacker, too, with the twos. But he would be the potentially the only one.”
The 6-foot, 214-pounder out of Erial (N.J.) Timber Creek earned his way into the mix after his debut on special teams through the first three games.
James has yet to appear in a game this season as he recovers from a groin injury, but the converted defensive back dressed last week against New Mexico.
On the weak side, sophomore Eric Margolis is the next man up if classmate Trevor Morris is unable to play. Morris was in a boot for Tuesday’s practice.
Ash said he expects Morris to be available on Saturday. But if Margolis needs to step in, Ash said there is promise from what the 6-foot-3, 239-pounder showed from his reps so far.
“(Margolis is) a kid that’s gotten a lot of reps here,” Ash said. “Don’t know what he’ll do on game day. Hasn’t gotten any game-day reps yet, so there’s a lot to be determined. But I like the way that he’s worked and the reps that he’s gotten in practice. He’s shown that he’ll hopefully be ready when his number is called to go out and play.
“But there’s no decision about Trevor Morris playing or not playing at this moment, so we’re fully anticipating Trevor being there. And if he’s not, then we’ll move on with Eric.”