2009 Breakout Performers? Manny Abreu

Manny Abreu ascended to Rutgers in 2007 from Union City HS (NJ) as one the top players in the tri-state. He was also once ranked as high as the number 2 weak-side linebacker prospect in the entire country by Scout.com. Abreu's ability to knock the snot out of opponents is a thing of legend. As an incoming freshman, he already stood at about 6'3 225 lbs and was ready for action.

Based on the depth at linebacker for the Scarlet Knights, Manny Abreu wasn't expected to contribute as a freshman. Although he performed well enough in practice to play during his first year as a Scarlet Knight, injuries kept him off the field for the majority of the season. Unfortunately, that year, Abreu only sniffed the field against Buffalo and Norfolk St due to that injury bug. It wasn't worth the risk of rushing him back when there was already a wealth of talent and leadership at the linebacker position for the Scarlet Knights.

Fast forward to 2008, in which we saw Manny begin to come into his own. The 6'3 super-athlete had bulked up to 250 lbs and looked the part of a menacing football player. His play on the football field co-incided with his stature. Manny set things off by being selected Preseason 3rd Team All-Big East by Phil Steele.

He began that season by taking the reigns of the starting strong-side linebacker role. When you watch the film, you can see Manny repeatedly laying out a number of opponents as well as himself during violent collisions throughout the season. Yes, his ability to give his absolute all and sacrifice his own body on every tackle has even led to him knocking himself out of games at times.

Unfortunately for him, Manny appeared to be having a bit of trouble with the mental assignments on the strong-side which opened up the door for the re-emergence of senior Demaso Munoz who slid over to the SAM position from the MIKE. Manny was later delegated to backup duty based on the solid and often-times special play of Demaso. Abreu was still able to make plays when he had the opportunity. He showed the prowess to become a devastating pass rusher off the edge as well as overall big-time playmaker. I feel he was a bit limited playing the SAM position though, simply because of the amount of responsibilities of a strong-side linebacker and the need to often times key off the tight end.

In 2009, I foresee a somewhat finished product being used as somewhat of a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. In speaking to Manny earlier this spring, he claims to have improved upon the mental aspect of the linebacker position which is the one area that was apparently a bit of a short-coming in the past. Sometimes when you are so dominant athletically, you are not forced to pay attention to the little thing, but on this level of football, technique and the mastering of assignments are essential.

To top it off, Manny has been moved to the weak-side which will allow him to utilize his size speed and athleticism to just make plays. From the weak-side, you get to see plays develop and often get the opportunity to clean up plays, run down plays to the strong side as well as downfield and affectively blitz the quarterback without having to worry about what the tight end is doing.

Due to the transition, Manny has lost 15 lbs to increase his speed and quickness, agility and ability to get from point A to point B that much faster. Apparently, his flexibility has also increased and I am expecting a dominant performance from Manny. The acquisition of his new position as well as weight loss added to his already physical nature and athletic ability, spells a recipe for success. If you were paying attention, we already got a glimpse of what is to come during the Spring Game where Manny was the leading tackler with 14 in limited action.

If Manny can put it all together this upcoming season as I expect he will, he can become the "X-Factor" that Rutgers will need during their pursuit of their first Big East Title.

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