Spring preview: Time to get Defensive

Rutgers opens its 15-session spring practice schedule Tuesday. In the finale of a three-part series, ScarletReport.com lookks at the questions on defense as it heads into this all-important practice time. Who will win the vacant cornerback spot? What is going on at middle linebacker? Who replaces defensive end George Johnson and what is going on with some of the young prospects? It's all here.

Rutgers begins spring practice Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., and while it will be a while before answers are known to pivotal personnel questions, at least the journey is beginning.

The Scarlet Knights' defense should be very good in 2010 because of a mix of proven returning players and an injection of speed and pure athleticism in the secondary.

In the next 15 practices, culminating with the April 24 Scarlet-White spring game at Rutgers Stadium, how positions shake out for the upcoming season will be outlined.

So heading into the all-important spring practices, there are several crucial questions in need of answers:

1. Which youngster follows McCourty
It was always an undercurrent during cornerback discussions last season. Rutgers had talent, albeit young talent, in the secondary. With Devin McCourty on the brink of being a first-round pick in next month's NFL draft, the focus is now on finding his replacement.

Red-shirt freshmen Darrell Givens, Logan Ryan and Abdul Smith will all get a shot. Each lacks college experience, but their physical talents can mask some of that in the early going.

And if two of them really excel, don't be surprised to see cornerback David Rowe move to free safety.

2. Looking for the Man in the Middle
With Ryan D'Imperio gone, Rutgers needs a quarterback on defense. But can sophomore Steve Beauharnais handle it? He played outside last season, but his intelligence and the speed in which he plays the game make him the front runner for the spot.

He is listed at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, which is big enough to play in the middle. Getting him acclimated there in the spring could be pivotal for the Scarlet Knights, who then wouldn't need to replace a middle linebacker again until after the 2012 season.

3. Are LBs Abreu, Glaud or Witherspoon ready?
Each one came to Rutgers hyped as big-time players, and now is their chance to prove they are ready to perform. Sophomore Ka'Lial Glaud played on special teams last season, and has the speed and physical gifts to make an impact.

Moving Manny Abreu to defensive end was talked about in the offseason, and at one time he was up to 255 pounds (he is listed at 245), but he will get a shot to win a linebacker spot this spring. Abreu is a physical specimen, but spent the last few years learning the intricacies of the game.

Marcus Witherspoon transferred from Michigan but has never been healthy enough to compete for a spot on the two-deep. That is supposed to be different this spring, and Witherspoon will get every opportunity to prove it.

4. Who will be free?
Hard-hitting intimidator Zaire Kitchen's run as free safety is over, and this is another area in which the Scarlet Knights have tremendous young talent.

Before true freshmen Rashad Knight or Lorenzo Waters arrive on campus, highly-touted sophomores Khaseem Greene and Duron Harmon will duel with classmate Wayne Warren and junior Patrick Kivlehan.

Greene saw plenty of action in nickel packages as a freshman, and Harmon brings tremendous athleticism to the position.

While losing Kitchen hurts, the Scarlet Knights have plenty to choose from in his replacement. 5. Is Freeny ready to rush full-time?
Jonathan Freeny moves into the spot vacated by George Johnson as starting right defensive end, but can he be a consistent performer. He had nine sacks last season, but tailed off as the season wore on, the competition increased, and teams started paying more attention to him.

He is gifted and combines enough size (6-3, 250) with speed, but he needs to get to the quarterback and prove he can stop the run.

6. Who will rotate up frong?
Schiano likes to play eight defensive linemen almost equally to make sure they have energy late in games, and as the season wears on.

In order to do it this season, it means depth will have to be sorted out. With Freeny and Alex Silvestro on the edges and Charlie Noonan and Scott Vallone inside, the starters seem set.

But this is a chance for a quartet of red-shirt freshmen to prove they are ready to provide depth as Andre Civil, Isaac Holmes, Jamil Merrell and Michael Larrow all compete to get on the two-deep.


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