Rutgers linebacker Jamal Merrell goes into the spring game Saturday as one of the elder statesmen on a defense that lost many of its key players. I had a chance to catch up with him Thursday to find out how spring practice has gone and how he has embraced his new leadership role. Here is a little of what he had to say.
JM: Yeah, I feel like the torch has been passed to me, along with guys like Marcus Thompson, and my twin brother, Jamil. It’s a big role, but I’ve been here a long time, I’ve been through adversity. I’m the one player on defense with the most starts, so I’ve got the time under my belt. As far as leading the young guys, I’ve been showing them what it takes to get on the field.
What did you learn from Steve and Khaseem that will help you this season?
JM: Just consistency. They both were consistent on and off the field. That’s something they always told me: hey you’ve got the athleticism, but the main one is to keep doing it day in and day out, be consistent day in and day out. That’s the main thing I took from them, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m doing everything on the field and everything off the field to better the team.
What have you tried to work on this spring to make yourself better?
JM: Just my leadership role, that’s the main thing. I see more and more people on the team coming to me asking questions and just looking for me for some guidance on and off the field, so just being there for everybody, not just being there for myself, but off the field as well, that’s the main thing right now.
What type of leader are you?
JM: On the field, I’m kind of a quiet guy, but when someone needs me, I’m all talkative, giving them the corrections, or just telling them things to be a better person or player. At the end of the day, I’ll let my actions speak louder than my words on the field, but as far as they need a question answered, I’m all for it.
You mentioned the adversity you have been through, having played a few different positions before settling in at linebacker. How did you keep your head up without losing your faith that things would work out?
JM: As far as my family back home, my dad and mom always taught us how to get through adversity and never hold your head down, stay humble, that’s the main thing. Mainly my strength coach, that’s something he preached just staying consistent and getting through. It’s like life. In life, you go through ups and downs. If you can get through adversity as far as playing football, and get through adversity as far as life, getting through it in football is nothing. Going from receiver to defensive line, now to linebacker it was a smooth ride because I stayed humble.
Why do you think linebacker was a good spot for you?
JM: I’ve got a lot of speed. I’m strong, I’m tall and at the same time I could hit. I went to defensive line, I was too fast for that. I didn’t fit at receiver. I went to Coach Schiano and told him I loved to hit. Me and my brother always played defense, so once I got to outside linebacker, my speed fit in. Making tackles in the open field, that’s something I liked, and making tackles in the open field is something a lot of people can’t do. It all came together and I took it and ran with it.
A lot of people have questions about the linebacker group because of the guys you’ve lost. How do you feel things have gone this spring with Kevin Snyder and Steve Longa now running with the first team?
JM: Great. Me and Kevin already had a bond because we roomed together in every hotel for every game last year. We’re just bringing Steve along, and he’s been coming along great. We tell him to keep working hard, and I would say the three of us are coming along real good.