No Rutgers defensive lineman made more tackles the Johnson in 2009, and he added a team-high 13 ½ tackles for loss and registered 6 ½ quarterback sacks.
Rutgers believes its next talented and effective defensive end rushing the quarterback and attacking the left side of the offensive line will be senior Jonathan Freeny, but he still must produce for the 2010 season.
The value of a defensive end getting to the quarterback is immeasurable to a defense, and given Freeny is entering his first year as a starter and is largely unproven, ScarletReport.com's countdown of the Top 25 most important players hits No. 6 with the Coconut Creek High (Tampa) product.
It is true Freeny led the Scarlet Knights in sacks (9 ½) last season, and he also mustered 12 tackles for loss and had a team-high 10 quarterback hits. But to believe the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Freeny is a given to have a big season in place of the graduated Johnson is a bit of a stretch.
Freeny has all the talent to do it. He has a quick first step, he uses his hands well to fend out blocks, he has good explosion, he is strong and he can beat a lineman inside and with speed.
However, it must be noted 6 ½ of Freeny's sacks last season came against Football Championship Subdivision schools Howard (2 sacks) and Texas Southern (2 ½) and Sun Belt Conference member Florida International (2).
Freeny is also entering his first season as a starter. He has been an integral part of the Rutgers' defense the last two seasons, playing in all 26 games in 2008 and 2009, but his only start came in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
One of the things that made Johnson effective was his ability to drop into coverage and take up a lot of space, and he did it well. Freeny will be asked to do much of the same, and at a high level if Rutgers is going to bring a number of blitzes from other points of attack.
Freeny finished 2009 with 33 tackle, and he gained tremendous experience last season as a backup. And although Rutgers rotates eight players along the defensive line, there is a reason one guy is a starter.
Freeny is getting that chance now.