PISCATAWAY -- Rutgers senior defensive end Kevin Wilkins left a mark in his final Scarlet-White spring game this past weekend by registering 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception.
“It was fun,” Wilkins told TheKnightReport. “We went out there and did what we were supposed to do. Both sides of the ball did a great job today. For the seniors, it’s both happy and sad at the end of the day. It’s the last spring ball we’ll have with these guys, but I’m happy with the way we performed.”
Wilkins and his fellow projected starters along the defensive line: Jon Bateky, Julius Turner, and Elorm Lumor, all performed well in the scrimmage. Turner, an undersized nose guard, had 1.5 sacks, Bateky tallied 0.5 sacks, and Lumor had a tackle. And while the final score in the specialized format ended up 132-132, the first team defense didn’t give up many points and earned points for its team (white) as well.
But, one clear weakness for the Scarlet Knights is depth along the defensive front. The aforementioned four players are solid, but beyond them is youth and inexperience.
“I’m really pleased with where our one defense is. We flew around to the ball well, rushed the passer well, challenged throws, and got some hands on some balls (in coverage). ...Our biggest concern on defense right now is depth on our d-line,” head coach Chris Ash said. “I really like our front line, our guys up there, I like our linebackers, our secondary, but we need to develop some depth up front.”
When Wilkins grabbed his second quarter interception off of a screen from Artur Sitkowski, it wasn’t the first time the 6-foot-2, 306-pounder picked-off a pass. He snagged an interception against Nebraska in 2015 -- on a screen.
In the spring game, Wilkins lined up across from left tackle Tariq Cole. As soon as the play started, Wilkins noted that Cole is usually aggressive when he pass blocks, but couldn’t tell something wasn’t right when he left him go on the play where he intercepted the pass.
“When I stepped out to go loop for contain, he didn’t look at me or touch me so I figured something was going on. The ball just happened to have been thrown to me and I was just in the right position at the right time,” Wilkins said. “I actually think that he was supposed to slant down on me but he didn’t and I stayed in the ‘B’ gap and when they ran out for the screen I was already behind the play and the quarterback didn’t see me and threw it right at me and I tripped and caught the ball as I was falling.”
Ever since Wilkins started playing in games for the Scarlet Knights or even when he first arrived on campus, the coaches and other players took note of his potential. Many have said the only person in the way of Wilkins becoming great is himself. Last year, the light bulb seemed to have turned on as the St. Joe’s (Montvale) product, in 12 games with eight starts, recorded 48 tackles with 5.5 for loss on the season. He also had five quarterback hurries and two passes batted down.
But now, as a senior, Wilkins is prepared to take an even bigger step forward.
Defensive line coach Corey Brown said earlier this spring that Wilkins is “very valuable” because of his ability to not only play outside where he is now, but also inside in third-down packages and with his experience with the younger guys..
“Maturing, learning how to work hard, and learning how to go hard all the time not just when you wanted to,” Wilkins said on what he’s learned from his time as a freshman to present time. “Coach always has stressed since he got here that he doesn’t want gameday guys. That’s not how you get better. I was never the best practice player. The year that I redshirted I used it to grow and mature mentally and physically. I learned how to practice with coach (Jim) Panagos. And then with Coach (Shane) Burnham, I give him credit with the way I was playing last year. He was hard on us and got us to go hard as well. My practice play started going into games.
“...I think it was the best spring I’ve had since I’ve been here. I feel like I brought energy every day. In the past, I would be wishy-washy. I would come in and wouldn’t talk as much and everyone would ask me what’s wrong. It didn’t affect me as much but this year I came in and really wanted to get the young guys better as well as myself and be the leader the way they want me to be without being vocal. Really leading by actions.”