Isaiah Johnson looking for job as Rutgers middle linebacker

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Newcomer Isaiah Johnson isn't fixated on the location of his name on the Rutgers' depth chart.

There is a job at middle linebacker with the graduation of Kevin Snyder, and Johnson is looking to claim it as the Scarlet Knights open spring practice on Monday.

Heading into a month of workouts, Johnson is listed as the possible starter with redshirt freshman Brandon Russell.

''It didn't really faze me,'' Johnson said. ''I'm just trying to work my craft personally and just feel like everything will fall in place from there.''

However, Johnson didn't travel 3,000 miles without the intention of playing. As a junior college transfer from City College of San Francisco, Johnson has three years to play two.

Johnson admits he comes into spring practice with more of a sense of urgency. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, and two years of junior college, he feels like he's ahead size-wise. That's why he's focused on the playbook.

He has also gotten help from Steve Longa, who manned the middle before moving to weak-side linebacker last season.

"I'm always asking him questions,'' Johnson said. ''He's been real supportive and helpful.''

The competition will get stiffer over the summer when Kaiwan Lewis arrives. A graduate transfer from South Carolina, Lewis will be in the mix for the starting spot.

For now, Johnson can get a head start on the competition. And he feels he has a strong skill set.

''I think I'm versatile,'' Johnson said. ''I play the run well I'm physical. I can run. I like just being all over the field. They ask a lot from the middle linebacker - coverage, running down the seams and obviously playing against the run.''

While spring practice isn't typically a time where jobs are won and lost, players are jockeying for position for training camp. Johnson is looking to be the guy in line to quarterback Rutgers' defense.

''I hate making mistakes,'' he said. ''I want to do my job and help the defense as a whole.''

Coach Kyle Flood also talked to the media Friday, with some focus on replacing departed quarterback Gary Nova, who played 46 games and started 41.

Redshirt sophomores Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig, along with redshirt freshman Gio Rescigno, are vying for the job.

Laviano is the only one with game experience, throwing for 107 yards on 11-for-28 passing with no touchdowns and an interception in five appearances last fall. Rettig quarterbacked the scout team while redshirting after transferring from LSU.

''I think it's going to be something that's going to play out over time,'' Flood said. ''What I would tell you is I'm pleased with how all of them have gone about their business, whether it's Chris Laviano, Hayden Rettig, Gio, I'm really excited about how they've operated so far.

''The true challenge now will be going in the huddle, getting the play call, getting everybody lined up, getting the ball snapped on time, making your read, making sure we're in good plays. Those are things that are going to be a challenge for us all spring because we're going to be playing against some pretty good defensive players.''

NOTES: Flood said running back Paul James, wide receiver/returner Janarion Grant, defensive end Quanzell Lambert and cornerbacks Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell will be limited in the spring because of injury. Offensive lineman Zack Heeman is still out because of an injury.

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