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Saturday, July 6, 2013

TOP 20: Proving it in Piscataway (No. 15)

Redshirt freshman Steve Longa (3) could inherit Rutgers' vacant middle linebacker spot. (AP Photo)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

Less than a month remains until the start of Rutgers training camp. This top-20 countdown will run infrequently, documenting who's got the most to prove in 2013.

No. 15 — redshirt freshman linebacker Steve Longa (6-foot-1, 220 pounds)

Why Longa's on the list: Longa is trying to become the first Rutgers freshman to open a season at middle linebacker in recent memory.

He'll have some competition — classmate Quanzell Lambert and junior Kevin Snyder will also likely earn reps as coordinator Dave Cohen evaluates his options. After the spring, Cohen likely already has a preferable starter in mind. 

Head coach Kyle Flood said last season he wanted to find a way to get Longa on the field a year ago, but that never materialized. It will not be the case in 2013, when Flood and Cohen moved Longa from the weakside to the MIKE, which hasn't seen a new starter in three years.

Longa will conceivably serve as the voice of Cohen's first-year defense. His position is defined by structure and assignments, while the WILL shifts on impulse.

It is a lot to ask, and Rutgers will certainly hedge its bets with contingency plans.

During training camp, keep an eye on: Any early adjustments.

Snyder says he wants to remain on the outside, much like veteran Steve Beauharnais did in 2011 after starting all of 2010 at MIKE. But when it was clear his heir apparent in the middle couldn't handle the position's duties, Rutgers' staff quickly re-inserted Beauharnais.

That said, Longa had nearly a full spring in the middle, and a larger film bank from practice sits inside the Hale Center. 

Cohen, who doubles as Rutgers' linebackers coach, has evaluated Longa for the better part of a year.

Any schematic change would likely involve Longa returning to WILL, where he spent all of 2012. He is the type of low-maintenance, speed-driven players Rutgers covets.

2013 season outlook: Surrounded by veterans and linebacker and size in the front four, Longa should adequately handle Cohen's defense, designed for players to play instinctively.

Much like Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene, Longa will likely be featured in several special teams packages and be a top-seven tackler. He could return to the outside in the future pending depth.

More from the countdown: No. 14 — Antwan Lowery
No. 16 — Darius Hamilton

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