THE LINEBACKING CORPS
Yeah, it says "preview". And yeah, I know, spring camp ended on Saturday. See Part 1 for the lame excuses. This preview is based upon information released only prior to the opening of spring camp. My thoughts likewise share the same perspective. This belated preview still offers some useful insights into spring camp because it allows the reader, with a post-camp perspective, to answer questions developed before camp opened. This article is the second of an eight-part preview of the Rutgers football team as it entered spring camp. The article reviews roster changes and injuries at the outset of spring camp. The article also identifies issues that needed to be addressed in spring practice and were observed by fans at the practices and scrimmages. I'm previewing the defense first. Part 1 focused upon the DLine. Backstopping the DLine is the LB corps.
For the second consecutive year, the LB corps hemorrhaged like a hemophiliac ward. Two years ago, the starters missed 17 of 44 man-games. No single player started every game. Three LBs were lost for the season in Game 4. Three different players started at WILB. It wasn't much better last year. The starters missed 18 of 33 man-games. Two starters were lost for the season in Game 3. The health of the LBs is the biggest concern entering spring camp. Despite three 4th year starters, experience is still lacking because two of those players have missed so much game action due to injuries.
PLAYERS LOST FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Every player from the two-deep returns this year.
RETURNING PLAYERS FROM THE TWO-DEEP
Players returning off of the two-deep include:
- RS Jr WLB Nate Leonard (1 GS, 2 GP, 2 tackles, and 1 TFL)
- Sr MLB Gary Brackett (11 GS, 92 tackles, 14 TFL, and 4 sacks)
- Sr SLB Brian Bender (3 GS and 7 tackles)
- So WLB Brad Cunningham (6 GS, 9 GP, 63 tackles, and 7 TFL)
- RS Sr MLB Mitch Davis (4 GS, 10 GP, 37 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, and 2 forced fumbles)
- Jr SLB Brian Hohmann (5 GS, 10 GP, 38 tackles, 7 TFL, and 1 sack)
Nate Leonard has been a hard-luck kid. As a true freshman playing SS, a shoulder injury first cost him three games and ultimately ended his season in Game 10. He missed spring practice while recovering. As a sophomore, he earned a starting job at WILB but an ACL injury ended his season in Game 4. He again missed spring practice while recovering. As a junior, a hamstring injury limited his participation in summer camp. Leonard regained his starting job at WLB in Game 3 but immediately suffered yet another season-ending ACL injury. Since he only played in two games, he received a medical redshirt. However, he is still rehabilitating his knee and is poised to miss his third consecutive spring camp. Schiano has raised the possibility that Leonard may never return. And may never play with his younger brother, Brian. Hard luck.
Gary Brackett is a prime example of Terry Shea's recruiting prowess – yet another walk-on who earned playing time and a starting job ahead of scholarship players. Brackett progressed from walk-on to 2nd team to starter in three seasons. Brackett was a rock in a storm of injuries last season. He started every game, finished second in tackles (92), and was voted defensive MVP. Brackett is a lock for the starting MLB job.
Brian Bender has nearly mirrored Nate Leonard in the hard luck category. As a freshman, Bender played in 10 games as a 2nd team SLB before starting the season finale at SS. However, an ACL injury ruined a solid rookie campaign. He missed spring practice while recovering. As a sophomore, he regained his backup SOLB job nine months after reconstructive knee surgery. But a shoulder injury in Game 4 cut short his comeback. Bender returned for spring practice and earned the starting SLB job last year after Torrance Heggie moved to DE. However, a neck injury ended his season after Game 3. Can Bender regain his starting job at SLB?
Brian Hohmann was the biggest surprise on defense last year. Recruited primarily as a long snapper, Hohmann's career seemingly died at birth when he quickly lost his long snapper job after a miserable debut against Villanova. Limited only to special teams action during a season in which the LB corps bled itself white, Hohmann appeared to be a write-off destined to never see legitimate playing time with the arrival of a new head coach. However,