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Monday, July 1, 2013

Rutgers banking on quick returns from Lewis Toler

Western Michigan transfer Lewis Toler recorded seven tackles and one for a loss Sept. 3, 2011, at Michigan, one of eight career games he's played against power-conference opponents. (AP Photo)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

From Piscataway to Kalamazoo, Mich. (literally), more than 700 miles separate Lewis Toler from his old home to a new one, but the fifth-year senior corner knows at least two faces. 

It is one a few reasons Rutgers is betting on Toler to integrate quickly into a re-shaped defense.

"If you know him as well as I do, he's very humble," Jamal Merrell said last Monday. "He's not somebody that will go somewhere and try to fit in. He's going to work to fit in. He's going to grind."

Toler, a Western Michigan transfer, played in high school against Merrell, a fifth-year senior, and twin Jamal Merrell at William Penn High School (Del). Jamal and Jamil Merrell played at Hodgson Vo-Tech.

Jamal, a linebacker, and Jamil, at defensive end, are already established leaders in two-thirds of Rutgers' defense. Toler could be one in the secondary, Jamal Merrell said.

"I talk to (Toler) every day," he said. "Just knowing he's willing to work and willing to learn is what's going to allow him to come in and be phenomenal here."

Toler finished 2012 with a career-low 37 tackles, along with three interceptions and seven pass break-ups. He re-joins defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, who served in the same capacity for two seasons at Western Michigan.

The Broncos finished eighth in the MAC in pass defense in both seasons.

Toler has played eight career games against power-conference opponents, averaging more than four tackles per game and recording four pass break-ups. He played Rutgers' conference rival, Connecticut, each of the last two seasons, winning twice.

Toler will have an immediate opportunity to contribute, head coach Kyle Flood said June 19. With no returning starters or seniors at corner, it is likely.

The youth has also led to Rutgers expediting its learning curve on defense, Jamal Merrell said.

"It's coming along faster than ever because everybody sees that we're young at some positions," Merrell said. "So they know they have to buy into what we're doing here. That's pushing us to move faster than we did in other years."

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