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Future of Rutgers Football 2023: Defensive Line

Junior defensive linemen Wesley Bailey and Aaron Lewis look to lead the Rutgers football team's defensive line unit in the 2023 season. – Photo by Steve HockStein /

It is officially springtime, and spring training for the Rutgers football team is underway. In the sixth edition of Future of Rutgers Football, The Daily Targum previews the 2023 defensive line.

With the Rutgers football team's spring game being just around the corner, a key position to watch out for is the defensive line.

The Scarlet Knights (4-8, 1-8) defensive line was one of the team's stronger units in 2022, registering 20 sacks in the season. They also performed well in containing the run, as the defensive line unit had the 44th-best stuff rate in the country.

The Rutgers defense was also good at creating turnovers, and a large part of that had to do with the defensive line's play. The defense forced 16 fumbles and recovered five of those fumbles in the 2022 season.

With many old faces returning, the Knights' defensive line will look to continue generating turnovers and keep the positive momentum going into the 2023 season.

Junior defensive lineman Wesley Bailey is a force to be reckoned with on the edge. In his breakout sophomore campaign, Bailey started all 12 games at the defensive end, collecting 3.5 sacks, 30 tackles and eight tackles for loss. He also led the Big Ten with three fumble recoveries last season.

At last year's Rutgers football banquet, Bailey received the David Bender Award, which is historically given to the Knights' best lineman.

Expect Bailey to be one of the leaders on the defensive line once again in the 2023 season.

Right alongside him is junior defensive lineman Kyonte Hamilton. Hamilton also had a breakout sophomore campaign, starting all 12 games — 11 at defensive tackle and one at defensive end. Hamilton adds a big presence to the defensive line, standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 290 pounds.

Hamilton totaled 24 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack last season. Despite a strong sophomore campaign, he has the chance to improve in the 2023 season, as this is his first offseason where he has solely focused on football.

Previously Hamilton was a two-sport athlete, playing football in the fall and wrestling for the Rutgers wrestling team in the winter. At the start of last season, though, Hamilton announced he would be focusing all of his efforts on football — this focus could see him on the way to a more significant breakout season.

Junior defensive lineman Aaron Lewis is another player that is returning to start on the defensive line for the Knights.

Lewis had a really strong 2022 season, starting 11 games at the defensive end and getting 55 tackles, with eight of those tackles being for a loss. He also had 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble. For his efforts, Lewis was voted to the third team All-Big Ten by the coaches and named to the Pro Football Focus third team in the conference. He was also named a Co-Defensive MVP at the Rutgers football banquet.

The Knights will have to replace Ifeanyi Maijeh on the interior for the 2023 season. Last season Maijeh started 10 games at defensive tackle and totaled 41 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.

Some names that may replace Maijeh and rotate in the defensive line unit are sophomore defensive lineman Kenny Fletcher, junior defensive lineman Troy Rainey, sophomore defensive lineman Q'yaeir Price, junior defensive lineman Rene Konga and senior defensive lineman Mayan Ahanotu.

Ahanotu is the player most likely to step in Maijeh's starting role, as he started three games on the defensive line and played in all 12 games last year. At 290 pounds, Ahanotu would be another hulking presence on the defensive line.

Unlike many of the other Knights' position groups, the defensive line is full of veterans and will be expected to lead the defense and team in the upcoming season.

Under the instruction of second-year defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak and third-year defensive line coach Marquise Watson, Rutgers will look to continue pressuring the quarterback and bottling up the opposing team's run game.

For more updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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