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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Max Issaka's return from injury could alter Rutgers' defensive line outlook

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: @Tyler_Barto

Max Issaka practiced fully this week, leaving open the possibility the sophomore defensive end makes his first appearance of the season Saturday against Houston.

Max Issaka recorded four tackles
in 2012, including a sack Nov. 24
at Pittsburgh. (AP photo)
Issaka nursed a shoulder injury through training camp. He had not seen action since Rutgers' Dec. 28 Russell Athletic Bowl matchup with Virginia Tech.

It marked the second straight season Issaka missed extensive time early on. Issaka spent most of training camp in 2012 attending to a funeral in his native Ghana and appeared in only seven games.

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"Overall it was an overwhelming experience, but being with a family and a structure like Rutgers, I feel like I didn't lose anything," Issaka said of missing the first six games. "I didn't lose a step not playing the first couple of games. With a couple of adjustments and a lot of training, I'm right back at it."

Issaka didn't want to speculate, but his projected return could actually aid Rutgers' interior depth. Junior David Milewski played defensive tackle for the first time Oct. 10 at Louisville with top reserve Kenneth Kirksey out indefinitely with a torn triceps.

Don't be surprised if Milewski plays near exclusively at depth-ridden tackle, with a rotation of three backup ends in Issaka, Quanzell Lambert and the Djwany Mera-Jamal Merrell substitute.

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"It gives us a lot of rest and a lot of rotations overall," Issaka said.

Lambert played extensively for the first time as a rotation end at Louisville. Another former linebacker, he could be the most physically ready (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) of any converted players at end.

"With what we do on defense, any player can make the jump either way," Merrell said. "(Lambert is) a big, strong guy. He's ready."

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