Looking ahead: DLs

Rutgers' defensive line should be exemplary heading into the 2010 season. The Scarlet Knights return six of their top eight defensive linemen, including Scott Vallone and Alex Silvestro, and also will have plenty of young talent to choose from. After red-shirting, Rutgers will find out the true ability of Antwan Lowery, Andre Civil, Isaac Holmes and several others.

If there is one spot on Rutgers' defense to be ultra-excited about, look no further than the defensive line.

Certainly, the Scarlet Knights have plenty of young talent in the secondary and at linebacker, but the they have experienced talent on the line. The Scarlet Knights' defensive success in 2009 began with the play of this deep unit, which will get an influx of young talent for the 2010 season.

Lost is starting defensive end George Johnson and key backup defensive tackle Blair Bines, but with what the Scarlet Knights have coming back, and the addition of those who red-shirted, this is the most formidable unit on the team.

Red-shirt sophomore-to-be Scott Vallone, who is turning into a dominant defensive tackle, anchors the middle with red-shirt senior Charlie Noonan.

After being injured early in his first season, Vallone was healthy in 2009. As the season wore on, he became accustomed to battling double teams. When he wasn't making the play, he was creating lanes for the linebackers to step in and make a tackle.

Vallone finished with 41 tackles, including nine for loss. Now that he has a full year of experience from which to draw …well, let's just say it's easy to see why coach Greg Schiano landed a helicopter on a practice field to see him at St. Anthony's of Central Islip, N.Y., during the recruiting process.

With Vallone and Noonan playing side-by-side, running through the middle will be difficult for opposing teams.

After trying a bevy of positions, junior-to-be Eric LeGrand finally found a home and is a rising defensive tackle who will factor in greatly as the Scarlet Knights go two-deep across the defensive line.

LeGrand was a standout on special teams, but used his quickness and low pad level to become a factor on a defense that allowed 17.9 points per game.

There is also tremendous anticipation for a pair of red-shirting freshman to factor into the mix. Antwan Lowery, a high-level recruit from Christopher Columbus High (Miami), lost more than 50 pounds while learning the defense, and is being counted on to play a significant role in the middle of the defensive line.

Another high-profile 2009 recruit who red-shirted Isaac Holmes, who made more than 175 tackles and had 18 sacks in his last two years at Hoboken High. He will also contend for playing time at a very competitive defensive tackle spot.

Johnson's ability to rush the quarterback or drop into coverage is a loss for Rutgers, but senior-to-be Jonathan Freeny and red-shirt junior Justin Francis are both capable of filling that role. Johnson had 6½ sacks, and his 13½ quarterback hits led the Scarlet Knights. He was also Rutgers' top tackler (44) among defensive linemen.

After a quick start Freeny finished with team-leading 9½ sacks, and his speed off the edge and athleticism should benefit the pass rush. Red-shirt junior Justin Francis was hobbled by a leg injury late in the season, but he possesses big-play ability in getting to the quarterback as well.

Senior Alex Silvestro is entrenched at the other defensive end slot, and is coming off his second straight strong season. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Silvestro had 42 tackles, including 12 for loss, and was a source of consistency.

The next question is who will be the fourth member of the defensive end unit, and the Scarlet Knights have plenty from which to choose.

There are rumblings inside the program red-shirt junior-to-be Manny Abrue could be shifted from linebacker to defensive end.

Highly-regarded Andre Civil, a 6-3, 250-pounder who red-shirted, will get a crack at time. He was at Rutgers for spring practice last year, but could not crack the deep rotation.

Red-shirting freshmen Michael Larrow, who had 10 sacks as a senior at Union (.N.J.) High, Jamil Merrell and Junior Solice will also get an opportunity in the spring.

There may also be an opportunity for several of the defensive ends to move to defensive tackle, and senior-to-be Sorie Bayoh is one of them.

On the recruiting trail, the Scarlet Knights are hoping to land Mainland High of Daytona Beach, Fla., defensive tackle Kenneth Kirksey. He is visiting Rutgers later this month.

The Scarlet Knights are also recruiting Djwany Mera, a 6-4, 230-pound defensive lineman from South Broward High (Hollywood, Fla.), whom Schiano is visiting later this week.

Rutgers already has a commitment from 6-6, 280-pound Taj Alexander of Downingtown East (Exton, Pa.), but it still needs to be decided whether he will play offense or defense.

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