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Sunday, September 15, 2013

With Jamil Merrell back, Rutgers' defensive line depth improves noticeably

Kyle Flood's defense enjoyed its best pass rush in nearly two years Saturday against Eastern Michigan, but lingering tackling issues remain. (AP Photo)

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: @Tyler_Barto

Jamil Merrell admits he was sore following Saturday's game against Eastern Michigan, but it was one of few residual effects of his presence that were negative.

The fifth-year senior's first game of the season coincided with Rutgers' best pass rush production since 2011. Five players combined for six sacks.

Rutgers managed four in its two previous games. Only one starter, Marcus Thompson, had produced one.

"It was real good," Merrell said Saturday, sitting on a black leather cushion in Rutgers' locker room . "To know that everybody can produce and put pressure on the quarterback, that's just a great thing. I know you all feel as though we don't get as much pressure."

For the first time this season, the Scarlet Knights consistently went as many as two deep at each defensive line position. Redshirt freshman Quanzell Lambert, nursing a lingering shoulder injury, saw his most extensive action of the season.

It remains to be seen if Rutgers' lineup will shrink as the season wears.

MORE: Gary Nova suffers a concussion against Eastern Michigan

"That's all (defensive line) coach  (Jim) Panagos' call," Merrell said. "We just know in practice what we're capable of doing. All we can do is show him and keep padding stats and keep practicing hard."

Rutgers' run defense aided its pass rush. The Knights allowed 38 yards on 40 touches — their sacks shrank those numbers — forcing Eastern Michigan into 19 third downs.

MORE: With running success, will Paul James remain on special teams?

Head coach Kyle Flood left with other impressions, as well.

"Some of the lesser experienced players that are on defense for us need to tackle better," said Flood, who admits the team will have more tackling drills this week. "That's a part of the game you get the least amount of work on once you get into the season because you don't do a lot of live tackling in practice."

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