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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dave Cohen asks much of Rutgers' Jamal Merrell at Fresno State

Jamal Merrell said he expected to take on a pass-rushing role in 2013, but coordinator Dave Cohen might rely on his base defense against pass-heavy offenses. (Tyler Barto)


By Tyler Barto
Twitter: @Tyler_Barto
tbarto@trentonian.com

The busiest man on the field Thursday in Fresno, Calif.? That'd be Jamal Merrell, the 6-foot-4 linebacker Rutgers often asked to play along the perimeter.

Merrell finished with eight tackles, second on the team, but no defender endured more responsibility in coordinator Dave Cohen's first outing. 

While Cohen's insistence on his base package reminded of Rutgers' 2009 season opener against Cincinnati, he at least had the personnel to do so.

To recap: Merrell often lined up outside the far hash mark, where Fresno State lined up two or three receivers. He balanced run responsibility with disengaging blockers on Fresno State's receiver screens.

For all intents and purposes, he was Rutgers' nickel corner.

Cohen needed Merrell's 220-pound frame against a trio of 6-foot-2, 6-foot-1 and 6-foot receivers, tasked with blocking Rutgers' smaller corners. The result was a largely base defense look for Rutgers, even when facing four-receiver sets.

RELATED: Jamal Merrell expects to rush passer more in 2013

Cohen sprinkled in the Scarlet Knights' "30" package (three defensive linemen, two edge rushers and six defensive backs), but other personnel groupings were slim. The Bulldogs' Derek Carr sensed the size mismatch at times, gashing Rutgers' smaller sub-package with runs through the 'A' gap.

“I think the things were guying to look to correct are tackling," head coach Kyle Flood said in Friday's teleconference. "We’ve got to do a little bit better job tackling and then some of those shorter passes. I don’t know that I remember a game where a quarterback threw the ball 74 times and his longest completion was only 27 yards. That’s a little bit of anomaly when you think about it."

MORE: What did Rutgers' 73 offensive plays against Fresno State reveal?

Merrell, among others, limited damage.

While his lasting image was trailing Fresno State's overtime touchdown over the top, his impact against the screen game was noticeable. He strung efforts inside, jumped one route and often disengaged blocks to reduce bigger plays.


MORE: Timing Gary Nova's 41 throws at Fresno State

It remains to be seen if Merrell will be used in a similar role in the future. Rutgers doesn't face another legitimate spread team until Oct. 5 at SMU, whose offensive concepts nonetheless are different.

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1 Comments:

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September 2, 2013 at 2:03 PM 

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