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Monday, June 24, 2013

Projecting Rutgers' Jamal Merrell in 2013

Fifth-year senior Jamal Merrell joined the program in 2009 at 200 pounds and without a position. Now he's on pace to become Rutgers' best all-around player under a familiar playcaller. (AP Photo)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

PISCATAWAY — Jamal Merrell was listed generously at 200 pounds when former head coach Greg Schiano announced his 2009 recruiting class.

That's about all Rutgers' coaching staff knew to do with Merrell, who bounced between three different positions in less than two seasons.

"One word I would say is hybrid. They saw a hybrid player in both of us," Merrell said of he and Jamil Merrell, his twin brother, both fifth-year seniors. "They gave us positions. Speed, athleticism — they put it on our back to show what we can do."

Here's Jamal Merrell's résumé since he moved to linebacker:
  • 2011: eighth-best 44 tackles (22 solo), three tackles-for-loss, 0.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery
  • 2012: third-best 83 tackles (37 solo), 8.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery*
*Both are reflective of splitting time (less in 2012) with now-junior Kevin Snyder, primarily in run-pass situations.

Now he's on pace to become Rutgers' most important player in 2013 — on either side of the ball.

Let's look at why:
  • At 6-foot-4, Jamal Merrell's impact on special teams is immeasurable, and his three blocks in two seasons against Syracuse changed the complexions of both games. He has five blocks in his career.
  • Since Schiano adjusted his defense following the 2010 season, no position has been more productive than linebacker, specifically the weakside, which is schematically designed to have freedom.
  • Rutgers is on to its third defensive coordinator in three years, but this time it's Dave Cohen, the team's former linebackers coach. "I love him," Merrell said. "It's a whole other mentality in the way he approaches the game. Off the field, I almost feel like he's my second dad because I have a love for him (and) the way he coaches the game."
  • With Jamil Merrell's (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) return to defensive end, Rutgers could have its best edge rusher since Jonathan Freeny recorded 9.5 sacks in 2009. The flexibility could lead to high-pass rush lineups and free Merrell on blitzes, should he inherit a role similar to Khaseem Greene's the last two seasons.
That being said, it's hard to imagine someone who has enjoyed a more steady rise in production than Jamal Merrell, especially after playing wide receiver most of his redshirt season.

Merrell, for his part, never wavered.

"That's one thing my dad brought me and my brother up (on): just envisioning greatness," he said. "Put yourself in the mindset in that helmet and think about the best moments. Me and my brother thought about playing against Louisville, cameras everywhere, fans everywhere. We put ourselves in that situation probably thousands of times. It's like I'm living the dreams and thoughts I had growing up that my dad instilled in us. I'm happy to be able to live it out."

*For our Trentonian story on QB Gary Nova appearing in Tuesday's paper, click here.

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