Top 25: LB Manny Abreu

Linebacker Manny Abreu arrived at Rutgers with huge expectations, and as a red-shirt junior he is in position to finally realize those expectations. He will enter fall camp as the starting strong side linebacker, a designation he earned in spring practice, and because of that Abreu is No. 21 in's Top 25 countdown of the most important players for the 2010 season.

The size and physicality Manny Abreu brings to the linebacker spot is unquestionable, but his potential remains unfulfilled at Rutgers.

He has a chance to change that in 2010.

With the amount of nickel coverage Rutgers plays, and with Abreu's size and speed at the strong-side linebacker spot, he has the opportunity to become a game-changing player for the Scarlet Knights' defense.

At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, Abreu is poised to have a breakout season, which is why he is No. 21 in's countdown of the 25 most important players for the upcoming season.

The label of disappointment has been attached to Abreu because of the enormous, if not unfair, expectations placed on him the moment he committed in Oct. 2006. He was rated the No. 2 weakside linebacker in the nation by, and one of the top recruits coach Greg Schiano landed in his Rutgers tenure.

However, it took Abreu time to morph into a college student, then a college football player.

On the field, he had the physical talent to excel in high school, but he didn't learn the importance and nuances of film study needed to succeed in college.

He started seven games as a red-shirt freshman, and there was hope he would breakout last season only to be passed over. He played in eight games and made 18 tackles in 2009.

It got to the point where Rutgers toyed with moving Abreu to defensive end before spring practice, but the Scarlet Knights elected to play him at strong side linebacker. For the time being, it looks like a wise decision.

Abreu looked more instinctual in the spring, and his explosion and strength make him difficult to block. But the biggest change with Abreu was his study habits.

He spent more time meeting with the coaching staff and teammates, especially walk-on middle linebacker Jim Dumont, to gain a better understanding of the defense, of his responsibilities and of what an offense is trying to do. Abreu's off-the-field metamorphosis also included better note taking.

At 6-3, 245 pounds, Abreu runs very well and has the ability to hit hard. But getting him from point A to point B was sometimes a problem.

With athletic and agile Steve Beauharnais playing middle linebacker and Antonio Lowery at weakside linebacker, a strong season by Abreu will make the Rutgers front seven one of the best in the Big East, if not the best.

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