RUTGERS RECRUITING NEEDS
Part 6: Linebackers
When Head Coach Greg Schiano assumed the Rutgers job in December 2000, he inherited a deep LB corps. As a result, his initial recruiting was directed elsewhere; his LB recruits did not entirely occupy the two-deep until 2004. Once Schiano focused recruiting on his LB unit, he landed several impressive recruits – fast, strong players capable of roaming sideline to sideline. Rutgers fans began touting Rutgers as the "next Linebacker U". But the performance of Schiano's LBs on the field fell woefully short of expectations. Speed and strength mattered little when LBs were repeatedly out of position or missing at the point of attack. A unit that was once nearly three deep with contributors was reduced to a five regular players last year, one of whom was lost early to an injury. This article, the sixth in a series of eight evaluating the needs of the 2006 recruiting class, looks at a LB corps in desperate need of overhaul.
Jr MLB DeVraun Thompson (12 GS, 97 tackles, 8 TFLs, 2 sacks, one INT, one FR, and 2 FF) was offered a scholarship shortly before LOI Day in 2003. Yet this lightly recruited freshman quickly leaped from special teams to backup MLB to starting MLB in only eight games. After an impressive debut season, Thompson experienced sophomore slump in 2004. Thompson's play improved last season as he was the anchor of a turbulent unit rocked by injuries and poor performance. But he has not realized the promise of his freshman year. Expected to compete for All Big East honors, he was disregarded thought finishing third in the league in tackles (second among LBs). Without so much as peep of protest. He will again anchor the unit this season.
Sr SLB Terry Bynes (4 GS, 26 tackles, 2 TFLs, one sack, and one BK) is a case study of Schiano's player management style. Bynes wasted his freshman season on special teams in 2002. Though praised for an outstanding 2003 summer camp, Bynes was buried on the depth chart behind a better athlete who received far more playing time than his performance warranted. Bynes was the only healthy, experienced LB in 2004 spring camp. The extra practice repetitions allowed him to maintain the starting SLB job in summer camp. Terry played solidly, if not spectacularly, in 2004. Bynes maintained his grasp on the SLB job and started last season strongly. However, he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Game 4. Schiano futilely appealed for a medical redshirt for Bynes. One that would not have been necessary had his freshman redshirt not been so frivolously discarded.
Jr WLB Quintero Frierson (6 GS, 12 GP, 46 tackles, 5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and 2 FR) is another LB whose career is ending just as he is starting to contribute meaningfully. He also wasted his freshman redshirt on special teams. The rash of injuries at LB in 2204 spring camp provided Frierson with a great opportunity to develop and claim the starting WLB job. However, a high ankle sprain in the 2004 season opener hobbled him for the remainder of the season and limited his playing time. Frierson surprisingly was beaten for the starting WLB job in summer camp last year even though he was one of few healthy LBs available in spring camp. Frierson displaced the injured and underperforming starter in mid-season and closed the year as the starter. With little proven depth behind him, he is certain starter next year.
RS Fr SLB Chenry Lewis (7 GS, 12 GP, 32 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks) was recruited as a LB but redshirted in 2004, practicing with the scout team at DE. He was moved to WLB in spring camp last year and drew raves with his play in the Spring Game. He showed a nose for the football that was sorely lacking from the Scarlet Knight LB corps. Chenry was promoted to starting SLB in mid-season after Bynes was injured and the incumbent backup performed poorly. As with Frierson, Lewis must merely fend off inexperienced first and second year players to maintain his starting job.
Sr MLB Will Gilkison (6 GS, 10 GP, 42 tackles, 5 TFLs, and one sack) also wasted a potential freshman redshirt season on special teams. Though designated as the backup SLB, Gilkison didn't actually play LB until very late in the season. Will earned the starting MLB job in 2003. However, his performance was not satisfactory and Thompson eventually displaced Gilkison as the starter. Schiano started later started Gilkison at WLB in place of the injured starter but Will again struggled. Gilkison backed Thompson at MLB in 2004 and played considerably in a deep LB rotation. Expected to resume his backup role, Gilkison instead earned the starting WLB job in summer camp. A groin injury suffered in summer camp hobbled Gilkison for much of the season and Frierson eventually replaced Will. Gilkison finished the season as the primary reserve LB.
Fr SLB Kevin Malast (6 GP and 4 tackles) was expected to redshirt last season but injuries prompted Schiano to elevate Malast past several upperclassmen onto the two-deep and special teams. However, Malast barely played as a backup SLB and essentially wasted his redshirt. Kevin will likely solidify his backup position in spring camp in the absence of any competition.
Fr MLB Chris Quaye (6 GP and 3 tackles) also had his redshirt needlessly burned in mid-season in a desperation move. Quaye backed up Thompson at MLB but DeVraun rarely left the field. Quaye will likely cement his backup job in spring camp.
RS Sr SLB Brad Cunningham (4 GP and one tackle) was a member of Schiano's first recruiting class. He started as a true freshman and was the most productive member of the class in 2001. Cunningham quit school before the 2002 season but re-enrolled in Spring 2003. In his absence, the next generation of LBs passed him on the depth chart. Cunningham played sparingly in 2003 and 2004 despite better football instincts than many ahead of him on the depth chart. Brad missed the Spring Game last year after breaking his kneecap. He underwent surgery and did not return until midseason. And then only partially recovered. He barely played as his injury severely limited his mobility and his stamina.
RS So SLB Kenny Gillespie (4 GP and 3 tackles) redshirted as a true freshman in 2003. He similarly received extended practice repetitions in spring camp in 2004 with five LBs missing camp due to injuries. However, Gillespie did not distinguish himself. Kenny only saw action on special teams in 2004 and again in 2005. Three younger players have passed him on the depth chart, including two true freshmen. He likely will not contribute beyond special teams and probably won't be invited back for a fifth year.
Fr LB Damaso Munoz participated in summer camp last year but subsequently disappeared from the roster. He may have been a non-qualifier and thus not eligible to practice with the team once any final eligibility appeals were denied. His status for next season is uncertain since Schiano has not publicly addressed his situation.
As a result of the questionable burning of redshirts, the LB corps suddenly is short-handed and inexperienced. A light recruiting class in 2004 has compounded the depth problem by starving the unit of reinforcements. Schiano enters spring camp with only a two-deep at LB. Nearly short-handed an entire unit. He will need to throw young players into the breach. He needs a class overweighted with LBs to restock his depth chart. He needs at least four LBs, one of whom should be a JUCO to add some much needed experience to a unit suddenly lacking seasoning. Schiano currently has signed commitments from six LBs – Sorie Bayoh of Gulliver Prep School in Miami, FL; Blair Bines of William Floyd HS in Shirley, NY; Ryan D'Imperio of Washington Township HS in Sewell, NJ; Antonio Lowery of Christopher Columbus HS in Miami, FL; Andres Morales of Bethlehem Liberty HS in Bethlehem, PA; and Patrick Nemorin of Deerfield Beach HS in Deerfield Beach, FL. On the surface, it might appear that Schiano has overloaded the LB corps in this class. However, Schiano has shown a tendency to move LBs to DE. So, the 2006 LB class may not end up this big once position changes are effected.
Coming Next: Rutgers Recruiting Needs, Part 7. Rutgers opened the 2005 season with a combined two years of experience in the its secondary. And, for the fifth consecutive year under Schiano, the performance of the secondary was poor. Personnel have come and gone – sometimes into the NFL. DB coaches have changed. Yet the performance has been a ongoing problem under Schiano as he has developed few defensive backfield recruits into reliable performers. In what kind of shape is a secondary that played four first or second year players?
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