2007 Preview: Defensive Line

This article is the fourth of a six-part series previewing the 2007 Rutgers Football team. In our initial trio of looks, we discussed the entirety of the Rutgers Football offense, looked at the key players from all units coming back and those likely to make a run during the upcoming season. Today we start our preview of the Defense with an evaluation of the Defensive Line.

The Rutgers defense has significantly improved since Greg Schiano took over the Defensive Coordinator responsibilities in 2005. The 2006 season was a break out year for the unit, as it ranked in the top 10 in several statistical categories. But what has been most captivating about the Rutgers defense has been the way Schiano's relentless, almost obsessive personality has rubbed off on his players. It is the determination, passion, and discipline with which these players attack the game that make them such a joy to watch for both Rutgers and non-Rutgers football fans.

Today we start our preview of the Defense with an evaluation of the Defensive Line. But we have added a different twist: we take you back to their recruitment and how they have evolved as players during their time on the Banks of the Raritan.

Players lost off the two-deep include:

*       DT Ramel Meekins -- As a high school football purist, it is easy to remember watching the NJ North-South All-Star game five years
ago and recalling this small wrecking ball, a 5'10 240 lb DT from Westwood NJ making plays all over the field.  Ramel was a young man with a ton of passion and heart. He was also an All-State heavyweight wrestler who had incredible balance, leverage, power, speed and explosiveness. But his size at the time left a lot to be desired. Ramel decided to join the Rutgers team as a walk-on player. With time in Coach Butler's weight room he developed into an absolute monster in the Big East conference. While he was considered an undersized player, he learned to use his strength and center of gravity to his advantage. Replacing him will be a difficult task, for he was a major league DT at the collegiate level with tremendous playmaking ability.

*       DE William "Papa" Beckford -- Coming out of Glades Central HS in Palm Beach, Florida, Beckford was one of the top players in the country on a Belle-Glades squad that was absolutely loaded with talent. That team consisted of ballers such as Santonio Holmes (Ohio State) and Ray McDonald (Florida). But Beckford saw something in Schiano's approach that made him believe he could turn this program into a winner. Beckford started his career as a LB, but an ACL tear while tackling WVU QB Rasheed Marshall subsequently limited his lateral movement. Beckford decided to give DE a shot during his senior year and was a terror coming off the edge, displaying great speed when attacking the passer.

*       DT Joe Giacobbe -- "Jersey" Joe Giacobbe was a walk-on from Rahway NJ who spent his career alternating between the DT and C position. After losing a heated battle with Darnell Stapleton for the center position in 2005, Giacobbe moved to DT, where he was a productive player in the trenches. Joe is another example of an undersized player with a great motor who made an impact
in the growth of the Scarlet Knight Program.

One of the exciting things of college football is that every year you must find ways to replace lost talent. Losing the aforementioned players is a challenge, but brings on excitement as returning players evolve and come to the front.

RETURNING PLAYERS expected to make a run or be on the 2-deep include:

*       DT Eric Foster -- Eric Foster came to Rutgers out of Homestead, Florida. In high school, he measured 6'1 220 lbs. He was a first-team All Miami-Dade County HS selection as a LB. He was a considered a very talented football player. But coming out of HS, he was considered too slow to be a major LB, and perhaps too small to become a major DE. What cannot be measured in size and speed, can be quantified in the man's heart - this man has the heart of lion. He chopped away every day in the
weight and training room, the practice fields, and also in the classroom, despite being set back by an ACL tear during his third season. All one has to do is listen to Eric Foster speak on National TV, and watch the way represents the program with class.  His perseverance has made him a household name across the nation. His way of rallying the troops during his locker room gatherings even made ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit a believer last year when he stated on National TV "I don't know about you guys, but I want to be in that locker room".

*       DT Peter Tverdov -- Tverdov was a tweener coming out of Union HS in NJ. At the MSL combine going in to his Senior Year, Pete measured in at 6'3 208 lbs and ran a 4.82-40 yard dash. He also bench pressed 185 lbs for 15 times. Solid but not big time
numbers coming from a high school prospect. However, Pete was a warrior on the football field and grew into his body as time
ensued. An absolute gym rat, Schiano offered Tverdov a scholarship late in the recruiting process. Now, Tverdov has become
one of the strongest football players on the team. He currently stands at 6'4 265 pounds. He has developed a combination of an incredible motor and toughness that have earned him he starting job opposite Foster.

*       DT Vantrise Studivant -- Studivant came to Rutgers out of Suncoast HS in Palm Beach County, Florida. He was considered a raw player, but a young man with impressive size and a ton of upside. As a true freshman, he logged valuable minutes and was
regularly seen in the DL rotation. He fell off the radar last year, but is focused on having a big junior campaign.  Vantrise has certainly looked the part and is now solidly built in the 260-270 range. He is expected to be the first DT off the bench in the rotation.

*       DT Jamaal Westerman -- Westerman played his freshman year of HS ball at St. Thomas Acquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After that year, his family decided to move North of the Border, to Brampton Ontario.  Westerman had a successful prep career in Canada and came to Rutgers as a speed end. He had an outstanding first step, quickness, and great feel for the game. The only knock on Westerman coming out of high school was his size. He came to Rutgers in the 6'3 210 pound range. In his first spring game, the former Floridian standout looked great coming off the edge, but struggled taking on blockers head-on. Wisely, Rutgers decided to redshirt Westerman, develop him physically, and develop the very tools that have now enabled him to become a special player. As a redshirt junior, Westerman currently stands at 6'3 260. And not only has he maintained his speed, but now has the strength and experience to give opposing lineman fits.

*       DE George Johnson -- Last year, Johnson had signed a letter of intent to the University of Virginia out of high school. However, while he qualified to be a student athlete per NCAA regulations, he failed to meet the requirements at Virginia. Johnson then was released from his letter of intent and signed with Rutgers. And fortunately for both parties, it seems to be a perfect fit. Johnson logged in major minutes at DE last year as a freshman. And if you ever see him on campus, the NJ prep star always seems to have a smile from ear to ear, the sort of positive demeanor that has become contagious in a program with a winning attitude. Now Johnson is poised to have a big sophomore season. The only thing seeming to hold him back, no pun intended, is his back, which has given him problems over the past season. If Johnson stays healthy over his career, his freakish skill set will give him a strong chance to be a player at not only the collegiate level, but also at the next level. His tools are that good!

*       DE Gary Watts -- Gary Watts was a late signing day surprise for the Scarlet Knights in 2005. Rumor has it that WR Bruce Williams, who had been verbally committed to Rutgers, de-committed late and signed with Syracuse. This then opened a scholarship for Watts. And Watts is making the program proud with his production this summer. Watts, who has always been a quick football player but lacked the strength and size to make an impact at this level, has seemed to make the commitment to the conditioning program. He has gotten rave reviews from Coach Schiano and is now a co-starter with George Johnson at the DE position opposite Westerman.

*       DE Chenry Lewis - Lewis was one of the more touted recruits early on in the Greg Schiano era. He started most of his red-shirt freshman year as a LB after Terry Bynes went down in the Pittsburgh game. He was certainly a player that was considered to be
on the rise. Unfortunately, his career has plateaued a bit. He continues to maintain good speed and should provide serviceable
depth as a rush end.

*       DT Charlie Noonan -- Noonan was a dominant, yet undersized, DT in the Philadelphia Catholic League. Unfortunately, Noonan suffered an injury during the Big 33 Ohio-PA All-Star game his senior year. Before his injury, Noonan had great speed and explosiveness. He also had a very nasty demeanor on the football field. Noonan is currently on the two deep and needs to continue gaining reps and experience in order to become a solid contributor.

*       DE Sorie Bayoh - Boyeh was a pleasant surprise at the Rutgers camp two years ago. He worked out as a LB and ran extremely well. He is very quick with long arms. But his playing style is more suited for the DE position. He can be very good in the future, but needs to continue to progress in the weight room.  

New Faces:

The most noteworthy aspect of the new freshman group, is that they start their career as young men much more physically advanced than their predecessors. Rutgers has brought in student-athletes in this recruiting class that not only can run, but just have Big Time size. If you evaluate how Rutgers has recruited and developed players, the future is going to be extremely bright.  

*       DT Matthew Hardison -- Hardison was a great looking athlete at the Rutgers camp his senior year of high school. He unfortunately suffered a knee injury that led to him delay his enrollment till this January. Hardison is wearing off the rust, but has shown great signs. He runs extremely well for a man of his noteworthy size. With his continued development in the weight room and practice field, he can become an exceptional talent down the road.

*       DT Jamiel Farrington -- Farrington, like Foster, is from Homestead, Florida. And their similarities continue. Coming out of high school they both had a similar frame and style of play. The scary thing about Jamiel Farrington though, is that physically he is probably more advanced than Eric Foster at this stage of the game. Farrington is bigger and has a better first step than Foster had at this stage, And most importantly, he has Foster as his mentor. In a prior SOR interview, Farrington was referring to the concept of chopping as if it were already second nature.

*       DT Alex Silvestro -- Silvestro is a young man that has excelled in everything he has done. He was an outstanding football player and wrestler in the 215lb weight class in high school. Now he has the opportunity to just focus on football. With an excellent frame, and a tough South Jersey demeanor, Silvestro will force himself in to playing time. He is 240 lbs now, if he keeps
chopping, the sky is the limit.

*       DT Justin Francis -- Francis is another big, young lineman that runs incredibly well. Francis played MLB last year and earned All-Broward County Honors. He is now listed at a lean 260 pounds. While still raw to the DL position, once he fine tunes his game he has an excellent chance to become a difference maker.

*       DE Jonathan Freeny -- Freeny, like Francis, also played LB last year and earned All-Broward County honors. However they are built quite differently. Freeny looks like an old-school boxer. He is built like a piece of granite. He is a physical specimen with outstanding speed. Once he gets his technique down and makes further gains in the weight room, he could become an absolute stud at DE.

*       DT Desmond Wynn -- Another physical specimen, the Delaware product was one of the top DL in the state last year and also considered a solid basketball player. It is astounding to see this young man at 6'6 260, as only a true freshman. With continued coaching and diligence, Wynn's size and athleticism will enable him to grab on to a very bright future.

*       DT Keith Newell and Wayne Thomas are amongst the largest recruits in this class. These are further examples of superior bodies brought in to the program, underscoring the continued improvement recruiting-wise. Unfortunately, Newell recently hyper-extended his knee and his status for the opener is uncertain. Wayne Thomas still remains in limbo with the clearinghouse and his status at this time remains unknown.


Previous '07 Rutgers Football Previews:
Offensive Line
QBs and RBs
WRs and TEs

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