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Defense Counts On Veteran Line

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Rich Schultz/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Rich Schultz/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

While Rutgers’ secondary is built nearly from scratch this spring, the defense can again count on a talented line to be its strength.

The secondary returns just one starter, but the line brings back three seniors who formed a stout wall up front in 2012. Fifth-year seniors Jamil Merrell, Isaac “Ike” Holmes and senior Marcus Thompson are back, with defensive tackle Scott Vallone the only departing starter of the group. Ready to replace Vallone is sophomore Darius Hamilton, a major recruit who played in 12 games last season.

Merrell had a good season in 2012, especially considering that he played out of position after nose tackle Holmes broke his wrist in the fifth game against Arkansas. Vallone, a three-technique tackle, slid over to replace Holmes, leaving Merrell, a defensive end, to play three-technique, where he held his own.

Though he is playing with a cast for now, Holmes is back and healthy this spring, allowing Merrell to move back to end. Playing on the other edge is Thompson, who will need to improve his production for the Knights to compete for the Big East title in 2013.

Stepping in for Vallone is Hamilton, arguably the top recruit in Rutgers history. Hamilton impressed last season off the bench, working his way into the defensive line rotation. He has bulked up from 245 to 260  pounds and should benefit more than any other defensive lineman this spring as he gets plenty of reps with the first team.