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Future of Rutgers Football 2024: Defensive line

Senior defensive lineman Aaron Lewis has been and will continue to be a major force on the Rutgers football team's defensive line. – Photo by Dustin Satloff / Rutgers Athletics /

As the Rutgers football team prepares for the 2024 season, it remains essential to emphasize winning in the trenches. In the sixth edition of Future of Rutgers Football, The Daily Targum previews the 2024 defensive line room.

The Scarlet Knights' defensive line is another contender for the deepest position group on the team. It is a testament to former defensive line coach Marquise Watson's work in his short tenure with the program. Unfortunately, Watson is still recovering from health issues that kept him away from coaching in the 2023 season, but he will still be on the staff in an off-field role this season.

Head coach Greg Schiano hired two new assistants to take the place of Watson's former role, both from the Mid-American Conference (MAC).

Julian Campenni, hired from Bowling Green, will coach Rutgers' defensive ends after spending the last five years coaching the Falcons' defensive line. In 2023, they notched top-five marks in the MAC for sacks, fumble recoveries and rushing defense, showing his success working with the line.

Colin Ferrell is the second assistant coach addition, coming to the Banks from Kent State where he spent 11 seasons on staff. Hailing from Hamilton, New Jersey, Ferrell grew a reputation as one of the top recruiters and assistant coaches in the MAC. He also had an excellent playing career for the Golden Flashes, earning First Team All-MAC honors back in his playing days, furthering the valuable experience that he will bring when coaching the interior defensive line for the Knights.

On the edge, Rutgers returns two starters with NFL potential in senior defensive linemen Aaron Lewis and Wesley Bailey. Bailey led the Knights in sacks in 2022, while Lewis always seems to wreck opponents' game plans with his relentless motor and ability to get to the quarterback.

One area the defensive ends and the rest of the line can improve is finishing plays. Rutgers finished with the second-fewest sacks in the Big Ten, which should improve, considering the talent and depth at the team's disposal. Lewis and Bailey often get solid runs at opposing quarterbacks but will hope to finish these plays more often in the upcoming season.

Aside from guys like Lewis and Bailey on the edge, there is also ample depth on the line's interior to stuff the opposing run game and put pressure on the middle of the field. That depth took a hit this week, though, as senior defensive lineman Rene Konga announced he would enter the transfer portal when its spring window opens. Konga had two tackles for loss in 2023 and was set to be a rotational piece on the line this season.

Without Konga, the starters on the interior will likely be senior defensive linemen Kyonte Hamilton and Malcolm Ray. Ray joins the program after transferring from Florida State, where he notched three career sacks. He was a fixture on the Seminoles' defensive line when they won the 2023 ACC Championship. He will likely fill the role of fellow transfer and former senior defensive lineman Isaiah Iton from 2023.

Behind the four starters, the cupboard is stacked with both youthful and experienced contributors. On the edge, senior defensive lineman Jordan Thompson and junior defensive lineman DJ Allen will rotate behind the starters.

Despite not recording a sack in his career, Thompson has played very well in specific pass-rushing packages. He even intercepted a pass in the Knights' win over Temple, showing his versatility dropping into coverage as well. Allen does not have much experience or contributions in the stat sheet but has excellent size for the position at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds. Konga's departure clears a runway for playing time.

Two seniors also fill in the depth on the line's interior, with senior defensive linemen Zaire Angoy and Troy Rainey back for another year. Much like Allen and Thompson, Angoy and Rainey have rotated in with the starters in certain packages and are good depth pieces to put stress on an opposing offensive line. Both are good at taking up space and funneling plays outside to Rutgers' difference makers at linebacker and on the edge, with Rainey recording 12 tackles and Angoy recording nine.

Schiano and his staff also brought in three freshmen on the defensive line to bolster the youth for the future. Freshman defensive lineman Aaris Bethea, a former three-star and No. 6 recruit in New York, joins the program from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn.

Bethea's main talents are his explosiveness off the line and his technique on the interior, giving Ferrell plenty to work with to bring him up to a Big Ten-level athlete. He also continues the pipeline of former Dutchmen players joining the Knights, as Bethea is the sixth player to commit to Rutgers from Erasmus Hall straight out of high school and the ninth overall from the high school since 2015.

The other two freshmen came as a twin package, as freshmen defensive linemen Tyclean and Tycoolhill Luman committed to the Knights out of Miami, Florida. The Luman brothers have similar pass-rushing profiles and were both three-star recruits. They are both a bit more raw but are great athletes at the defensive end position with plenty of room to grow and develop to reach their full potential.

Rutgers' defensive line will need to be the backbone of another potential elite defense, with veteran talent all over the roster to help propel the Knights to another winning season.

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

To view more of Alec Crouthamel's work, follow @aleccr12 on X.

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