Rutgers needs a big defensive tackle rotation in a conference focused on dominating the line of scrimmage. Returning former five-star Darius Hamilton as the centerpiece, Rutgers has multiple interesting options and some developing names getting ready for training camp.
Hamilton caught his stride midway through 2013, and he is in for a big season. Criticize him all you want for being undersized. Hamilton will just ignore it and continue to be productive. Voted the No. 3 defensive tackle in the Big Ten by Scout.com, Hamilton leads a solid group of defensive tackles into the new conference. The former five-star prospect out of Don Bosco Prep led Rutgers with 11.5 TFLs last season. His 4.5 sacks were good for second on the team.
Kenneth Kirksey will need to stay healthy to hold on to his starting position at nose tackle. Kirksey missed the final 10 games of last season with injury. He steps into a starting role this year with staying healthy as the first step.
Rutgers could rotate as many as five or six bodies inside, and the key names off the bench are Sebastian Joseph and Daryl Stephenson. Joseph will back up at the nose with Stephenson at the three-technique. Both, however, are capable of playing at either tackle spot behind Hamilton and Kirksey. Joseph is physically imposing and approaching 300 pounds and Stephenson has two years of playing experience. Do not be surprised if David Milewski or Julian Pinnix-Odrick get looks inside either, especially in passing situations.
Freshman Kevin Wilkins was one of the biggest in-state gets in the last two years for coach Kyle Flood. He has an outside chance to play early and a great opportunity to follow Hamilton as an impact defensive tackle. Wilkins played behind Hamilton at Don Bosco Prep, and will do the same in learning the ropes at Rutgers. Freshman Eric Wiafe put up a solid spring after enrolling early. Wiafe is two years out of high school, and could also find a few snaps as a true freshman based on his size. Incoming freshman Jimmy Hogan will start off as a defensive end, however, he could move inside after some time in the program. Rutgers has a commitment from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Grand Street Campus 2015 Kamaal Seymour as a defensive tackle.
Rutgers is not at the dramatic size disadvantage inside that some think, and a technically elite talent like Hamilton more than makes up for the size he gives up. Instead of focusing on how much each individual defensive tackle weighs, look at the experience inside and the history of success against the run. When Rutgers does struggle against the run, it is often at the second and third levels, and not at defensive tackle.