Rutgers stuck in the middle

Injuries have left a pivotal position on defense up for grabs.

Posted: August 24, 2007

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - As the final practice session of preseason camp ended this week, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano made certain the Scarlet Knights would appreciate a rare two-day break by making them run gassers until their tongues were practically dragging along the turf.

"It's the end of camp. Time to get ready," Schiano said with a nod toward Thursday night's opener against Buffalo at Rutgers Stadium.

Schiano said he was pleased with the offense, especially the potentially explosive passing combination of Mike Teel to Kenny Britt, but issues remain with the defense. Schiano is the defensive coordinator, so that's his area of expertise.

The most pressing problem is at middle linebacker, a position that seemed secure until Ryan D'Imperio, a talented sophomore from Washington Township High, broke his left leg in three places during a spring scrimmage.

Then Blair Bines, who was competing against Damaso Munoz for the spot, suffered a broken jaw Monday; he is expected to miss six weeks. Chris Quaye, a converted fullback from Timber Creek High, began preseason camp atop the depth chart at middle linebacker because of his experience but didn't stay there.

The injuries and uncertainties have created an opportunity for Jim Dumont, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Council Rock North High who is running No. 2 behind Munoz despite a cumbersome cast on his broken right hand.

D'Imperio, the obvious successor to Devraun Thompson, who was second-team all-Big East last season, took part in drills yesterday but was running with a slight limp and thick protective padding around his lower leg. At times, it seemed D'Imperio had to be restrained from contact. He was expected to return by the third or fourth game of the season, but all indications are he's ahead of schedule.

"So far, so good," Schiano said of D'Imperio. "He's such a great throwback linebacker. That's what he is. If we let him do more, he'd do more, but that wouldn't be smart. I don't know what [the timetable] is. I was saying he'd play by about the third or fourth game because that's what they told me. But I don't know, this guy, we'll see.

"I don't want to put him out there if you see a noticeable change in his gait, then you're susceptible to other injuries. If he can start running with a natural gait and he's strong enough in the trainer's tests, then we'll let him go. The doctor says he's healed up and that he's got to get stronger."

Although the defensive line, led by preseason all-American Eric Foster at tackle, should be solid, Schiano is still searching for suitable backups.

"There are going to be questions in our depth on the defensive line, and there's certainly going to be questions with our linebacker depth until we resolve them," he said. "The good thing is we're going to get [the injured linebackers] back."

Last season, when the Scarlet Knights went 11-2 and finished No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, they led the Big East in three defensive categories, including fewest yards allowed. But five of those defenders are gone.

"I think we're going to grow as a defense," Schiano said. "I think we're starting to get a little bit better, but it's going to take a while. It's going to be a work in progress, which you would expect when you've lost the number of key performers we lost on our defense. But they'll fight, so that'll give us a chance."


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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