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Friday, July 19, 2013

TOP 20: Proving it in Piscataway (No. 9)

Max Issaka would be hard-pressed to start 2013 less conventionally than his redshirt freshman season. (AP Photo)
By Tyler Barto
Twitter: Tyler_Barto

Less than three weeks remain 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. 9 — sophomore defensive end Max Issaka (6-foot-3, 250 pounds)

Why Issaka's on the list: Issaka's 2012 season was nearly over before it began.

To recap: Issaka missed all of training camp at a funeral in his family's native Ghana. He was in and out of touch with Rutgers' coaching staff. He returned after the team's season opener.

The result: six games played, modest production and a dip in playing time toward the tail end of the season. The Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, relied on three players who entered the season with a combined three seasons at defensive end.

While Rutgers' starters are in place, the rotation at end will be thin. 

(Courtesy of
Sophomore Myles Jackson hasn't played much and junior David Milewski has torn an ACL three times in Piscataway. Promising redshirt freshman Julian Pinnix-Odrick is out for the year.

Issaka was considered a coup when he re-opened his recruitment in 2010 after Pitt's coaching staff fell apart. He will have to show the coaching staff he is reliable in his assignments and energy.

During training camp, keep an eye on: The defensive staff's creativity along the edge.

Linebacker Quanzell Lambert lined up at end on passing downs during spring practice, much like the system in place with former Scarlet Knight Steve Beauharnais. Senior Marcus Thompson inherits the hybrid, roving 'R' position.

Rutgers incorporated some odd-man fronts the last two seasons, as well. It may be the case in 2013 if its rotation at defensive end proves shallow. 

Issaka has the frame and burst to be effective, especially in a 15-play-per-game role. His play will determine how unconventional new defensive coordinator Dave Cohen must be.

2013 season outlook: Issaka earns a larger role out of necessity and shows flashes of a penetrating end. He plays the most out of Rutgers' reserve ends because of his physical burst.

A second year with d-line coach and motivator Jim Panagos should establish the consistency Issaka covets.

As a whole, Rutgers puts up sack numbers closer to its 2011 total (36) than last year's (26).

More from the countdown: No. 8 Kyle Federico
No. 10 — Nick Marsh

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