Looking ahead: LBs

Rutgers' linebackers have been a strength for years, but with Ryan D'Imperio and Damaso Munoz being lost, there will be tremendous competition when spring practice commences. One possibility has sophomore Steve Beaharnais moving to take over the crucial middle linebacker position, but so much more needs to be settled. Will Marcus Witherspoon be ready? What youngsters are on the horizon?

It became a familiar site.

Ryan D'Imperio in the middle of the Rutgers defense, calling the plays, shifting players around, sometimes flapping his arm, and ready to run full bore toward the ball carrier.

So, entering spring practice and looking toward the 2010 season, the Scarlet Knights have some sorting out to do.

An expected move is the switch of sophomore-to-be Steven Beauharnais from outside linebacker to middle linebacker. He overtook senior Antonio Lowery midway through the season, and the speed, precision and intelligence with which he plays makes lends to being a successful middle linebacker.

At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he may need to add a few more pounds and needs to get stronger to be able to survive in the middle, but the way he pursues the ball and his tackling will be an asset as he roams from sideline to sideline.

He finished the season with 36 tackles and five sacks, which also displayed his acumen in blitzing through the middle and off the edge.

Walk-on Jim Dumont, who will be a fifth-year senior, was listed on the two-deep, but his play was limited as the Scarlet Knights used a lot of nickel sets with two linebackers when D'Imperio was not on the field. Dumont should have an increased roll in 2010.

Part of the reason Lowery lost some playing time was physical. He had various bumps and bruises, which kept him from playing against Army, but still finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles, including 7½ for loss.

His leadership, not to mention full health, is essential to the success of the linebacker corps. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds he can play against the run but needs to be better in coverage.

After that, though, the competition will be furious to see how the linebacking unit shakes out.

There is the question of whether red-shirt junior-to-be Manny Abreu will stay at the linebacker spot, or move to defensive end. At 6-3, 245 pounds, Abreu has the size to make the transition to defensive end, and having 10 other linebackers already in the program suggests that may be a worthwhile move.

If Abreu does move, or doesn't win the job, Ka'Lial Glaud, who gained experience as a freshman playing on special teams, is the front-runner to take the spot held by outgoing senior Damaso Munoz. But the 6-2, 220-pound Glaud needs to show he can play in space.

There is also immense interest in the development of red-shirt sophomore-to-be Marcus Witherspoon, the transfer from Michigan and former All-American from Holy Spirit of Atlantic City, N.J.

He had shoulder surgery shortly after he arrived in 2008, and wasn't cleared for the start of training camp and never factored into the linebacker mix.

Marcus Thompson from Boyd Anderson (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.) has committed to Rutgers, and could factor into the outside linebacker race, if he can pick up the defense quickly.

There is also an opportunity for 6-3, 225-pound Morgan Carter, who will be in his third year in the program, to move into the two-deep. Red-shirt junior-to-be Al-Ghaffar Lane and second-year player Jamal Merrill will also get reps at the linebacker spot.

Piscataway's Marvin Booker, who will be a junior, will have a tough time competing for playing time since he is expected to miss the spring after being injured in practice late in the season.

Commit David Milewski of Sayreville (Parlin, N.J.) High could begin his career at linebacker, or be moved down to defensive end since he has the frame (6-4, 215) to put on more weight and play with his hand on the ground.

Rutgers will also welcome in middle linebacker Sam Bergen of East Stroudsburg (Pa.) High. Bergen underwent reconstructive knee surgery for the second time in two years in November, but he said he is on target to be ready for training camp.

Also, Rutgers is the leader in the recruitment of Syracuse commit Malcolm Cater of Riverhead (N.Y.) High. He will take an official visit the weekend of Jan. 22. They also will host Miami commit Kevin Nelson, a linebacker at Gainesville (Fla.) High, this month. However, Nelson said he anticipates attending Miami.


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