A season ago, the Rutgers’ defense was a big reason that the Scarlet Knights won the four games they did. The defense will once again need to be effective if Rutgers truly believes they can compete in the 2018 postseason.
Many big players from 2017 have since departed the team, leaving the Scarlet Knights with very little depth to work with.
Kemoko Turay and Sebastian Joseph were picked up in this year’s NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams, respectively. Jawuan Harris, who made three interceptions for 29 yards a year ago, was a seventh round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in the MLB Draft this June.
Additionally, K.J. Gray, a projected starter, was dismissed from the program earlier this summer.
Despite the fairly shallow depth pool for the Scarlet Knights, the defense still looks to be an area of strength in 2018 if the stars of the team can stay healthy. This is a big ask of this group, but if they can stay on the field, this defensive squad will keep Rutgers competitive in games and possibly in bowl contention.
Important Returning Players
Blessaun Austin is on the comeback trail after ending his 2017 campaign when he tore his ACL last fall. All signs point to Austin being ready to go for week one, but there are no certainties when it comes to returning from such a major surgery. If Austin can return to his 2016 form, where he played in eleven games and recorded 41 total tackles, he will be a major asset to this Scarlet Knight defense.
Another major asset for Rutgers will be Saquan Hampton, who plays an athletic defensive back role. Hampton is another player who is relatively banged up; he missed four games a season ago due to a shoulder injury.
Shoulder injuries are nothing new for Hampton, who missed five games due to an injury on his other shoulder in 2016. Despite the missed snaps, Hampton was among the most successful of the returning defensive backs in 2017, with 34 total tackles.
Hampton is a huge player for the Scarlet Knights defense, and much of this unit’s success will rely on the redshirt senior.
Another redshirt senior, Isaiah Wharton, will be another major factor in stopping the ball for the Scarlet Knights. Wharton has the most longevity of the major defensive players, as he started all twelve games and had 40 total tackles a year ago.
Rutgers is going to want Wharton to be more productive this year in order to keep Rutgers within striking distance later in games. If Wharton can have another year like 2017, or even return to his 2015 form – when he recorded 57 tackles – the Scarlet Knights should win the additional two games required to go bowling.
The biggest name returning is Kiy Hester, who was not even with the team until July. Hester brings experience to the program, with 29 games played in three seasons and 125 total tackles over that span.
Last season, Hester also scored the only two touchdowns of his career and ran 95 yards on three interceptions from the backfield. The return of Hester was a big one. Not only is Hester bringing his experiences, he is also bringing the great locker room presence and leadership that are necessary in postseason teams.
Look for Hester to mentor the younger players in the locker room, while making big stops on the team, in order to make the Scarlet Knights better.
The defense was a bright spot for the Scarlet Knights a year ago when there was little else to celebrate. Now, in a year with big bowl implications, the Rutgers’ defense is going to need to be even better.