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Saturday, July 27, 2013

TOP 20: Proving it in Piscataway (No. 4)

Isaac Holmes' dependability will help determine both how Rutgers' pass rush and run defense fare in 2013. (AP Photo)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

Less than a week 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. 4 — fifth-year senior defensive tackle Isaac Holmes (6-foot-3, 280 pounds)

Why Holmes is on the list: Holmes is Rutgers' largest interior lineman, a break from its mold of leaner, quicker penetrators. 

Much of what Rutgers plans to do up front hinges on his healthy return from two offseason wrist procedures. His presence in the 'A' gap (between the center and guard) could help free up sophomore Darius Hamilton and Rutgers' interior linebackers.
(Courtesy of

Holmes must first prove he can remain healthy. He played in only four games last year after injuring his wrist Sept. 22 at Arkansas. Rutgers' run defense, which finished No. 6 nationally, still suffered, albeit indirectly.

Without Holmes, the Scarlet Knights compensated by moving Scott Vallone to nose tackle on most downs. It compromised Rutgers' pass rush, which totaled 25 sacks, its second-worst output in six seasons.

Rutgers' decision-making does not occur in a vacuum. Holmes' injury fractured its d-line rotation and forced a disparate number of reps.

It will likely do everything it can to make sure Holmes is available in late November.

During training camp, keep an eye on: The Knights' interior rotation.

Although Holmes speaks of no lingering effects, his wrist will weigh significantly on how Rutgers' staff monitors camp reps inside. 

Junior Kenneth Kirksey is a capable reserve, and teammates spoke promisingly of sophomore Daryl Stephenson in 2012 before a camp injury sidelined him. Front-line talent will not be a concern — Holmes says Rutgers' 2013 front is the biggest since his freshman season.

Holmes' return, combined with gauging the Knights' depth, could determine how Rutgers' staff uses Holmes in August. 

No, not all injuries are created equal, but that's how important Holmes is to Rutgers' fate.

2013 season outlook: Provided injury concerns don't linger, Holmes should enjoy the most productive season of his career (which admittedly isn't saying a lot).

With Holmes and a veteran d-line, expect the 2013 unit to compete with 2009's 113 tackles for loss. That year, Rutgers' front four (plus pass-down rusher Jonathan Freeny) accounted for 48.5.

With Holmes near 100 percent and Jamil Merrell's return to end, a comparison isn't too far-fetched.

More from the countdown: No. 3 — Jeremy Deering
No. 5 Paul Carrezola

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