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January 3, 2013

2012 Season Superlatives: The defense

With the 2012 season in the rearview mirror, Scarlet Nation took a look back at the campaign and handed out honors and distinctions for those who the Scarlet Knights who had the biggest impact on the year. Here's a look at the defensive season superlatives:

Defensive MVP
Bobby Deren: Khaseem Greene. It's really hard to pick anyone else here. Greene finished the season with 136 tackles, six sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. He was all over the field and was also a valuable special teams player in addition to being a team captain. From start to finish this season, Greene was dominant and his absence will be felt next season.

Matt Hladik: There's not much more you can say about Greene that hasn't been said. He was an emotional and physical leader with the stat line to prove it. He turned in multiple dominating single-game performances en route to a second consecutive Big East Defensive Player of the Year award. He set himself up to hear his name called in the early rounds of April's draft.

Comeback player of the year
Bobby Deren: Kenneth Kirksey. This past summer, it did not look like Kirksey would figure into the two-deep at all. Injuries had bothered him all year and it looked as though he might spend the year doing a lot of watching from the sidelines. But Kirksey finally kicked the injury bug and worked his way back into the rotation at defensive tackle. It was not a banner year for Kirksey, who appeared in only eight games. But just making it back in the rotation was a stark difference from where he was this past spring.

Matt Hladik: Marvin Booker. Booker battled injuries throughout his first four seasons at Rutgers and was hurt again in the season-opener at Tulane and missed the next three games. However, he returned to the unit after the Arkansas contest and posted 23 tackles (6 for loss) and a sack while splitting time at the "R" position. While not a star, Booker carved out a niche for himself as a fifth-year senior despite his setbacks.

Most improved player of the year
Bobby Deren: Isaac Holmes. Heading into this past season, there was still questions whether or not the one-time four-star prospect could deliver on all his promise. Through five games, Holmes was very strong at the defensive tackle position. An unfortunate wrist injury prematurely ended his season, however Holmes finally made the jump from role player to starter. Coming back next year, a lot of expectations will be placed on Holmes' capable shoulders.

Matt Hladik: Jamal Merrell. Merrell showed plenty of flashes in 2011 but seemed on the verge of losing the starting SAM spot to Kevin Snyder going into this season. That changed though as he became a consistent presence, finishing third on the team in tackles with 83, nearly twice his total from the prior season. Merrell is a force playing in space and with the departures of Greene and Beauharnais, he'll be counted upon to be a leader on the defense next year.

Biggest loss
Bobby Deren: Khaseem Greene. He is one of the best linebackers ever to suit up in scarlet. Replacing a Khaseem Greene may not ever happen, let alone having it happen next season. He was a two-time Big East defensive player of the year and not only was he all over the field, he was the heart and soul of the Rutgers defense. Greene was also a fan-favorite and finding someone to fill his shoes should not even be expected next year. He was just that good.

Matt Hladik:Greene is the obvious choice here, for what he meant to the team on and off the field as a leader, team captain and one of the finest linebackers in the country. Rutgers has young talent at the linebacker position, but replacing Greene's impact next year will be a near impossible task.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013
Bobby Deren: The secondary. Rutgers loses three of four starters and returns only one member of its two-deep in cornerback Tejay Johnson. Johnson is likely to find himself as the No.1 cornerback while a true freshman could wind up starting opposite him come opening day. The safety position loses two-time All-Big East first-team selection Duron Harmon and backup Wayne Warren. The RU staff will have to find someone to start opposite Lorenzo Waters with little game experience to draw upon among the candidates.

Matt Hladik: Rutgers loses five of its top six players from this year's secondary, a jarring statistic. Reserve cornerback Tejay Johnson and starting safety Lorenzo Waters are the only member of the two-deep returning, with the starting spot across from Johnson likely up for grabs between some unproven veterans and a host of incoming freshmen. Waters will be counted upon to make significant strides in past coverage next season, with several candidates in the mix to start next to him.

Defensive assistant coach of the year
Bobby Deren: Dave Cohen. Rutgers' linebacker play was outstanding this season and although the first-year RU assistant had some top quality players to work with, there is no disputing the results. Jamal Merrell made great strides as a second-year starter and Kevin Snyder also had an excellent end to the season. Cohen will be tested a bit more next season having two replace two starters, but he has passed his early tests with flying colors.

Matt Hladik: Jim Panagos had to contend with a host of different issues this season. Two major players in the defensive tackle rotation (Daryl Stephenson and Isaac Holmes) were lost for the season due to injury, and both defensive ends were in their first year as full-time starters. Also, reserve defensive end Max Issaka missed training camp due to a death in the family. Through it all, Panagos, with the help of veterans Scott Vallone, Ka'Lial Glaud and Jamil Merrell, was able to mold the unit into a steady part of Rutgers' defensive scheme.

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