As we looked at the Maryland Terrapins offensive depth chart coming together yesterday, today we’ll look over how the Terps defense is shaping up. As we noted, Maryland is coming off the most tumultuous offseason in program history. This is a big season not only for the program, but for Head Coach Randy Edsall especially.
If Edsall doesn’t vastly improve upon the two wins from last year, he can go ahead and sign up for unemployment. The offense has a lot of questions for new Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley. There will be a new quarterback (Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe or Devin Burns), a stable of young and unproven running backs, and an underperforming receiving corps. Let’s not forget about breaking in three new starters on the offensive line. There is work to be done.
The defense is in a little bit better shape. This year the defense will be changing to a 3-4, with the thought that they will be able to field a more athletic squad. For those slightly unfamiliar with a 3-4 (or simply ‘34’), you essentially just replace one defensive lineman for an additional linebacker. Then, you can blitz one or more of the four linebackers and hopefully catch the offense in a position where they aren’t effectively protecting the quarterback. With consistent pressure on the quarterback, you will see hurried decisions and mistakes galore. The Terps actually do have some pieces to make for an intriguing defense.
Joe Vellano, who was a 2nd team All-American at defensive tackle last year, will be moving over to play end in the new defense. This should be an excellent fit, as Vellano will have even more opportunities to utilize his pass rushing skills, in addition to still taking full advantage of his run-stuffing capabilities. The other end spot looks to be locked up with Andre Monroe, who was a Freshman All-American last year with 5 sacks.
Isaiah Ross and Justin Anderson are getting a lot of the backup snaps. At the nose, arguably the most important position of the 34 defense, is senior A.J. Francis, who has shown flashes of brilliance. At 6’5’’, 305, Francis looks the part of the nose guard. This should be a more than capable unit for ACC play.
The linebackers should be a strength of not only the defense, but the team. Seniors Demetrius Hartsfield, Darin Drakeford, Kenny Tate and sophomore L.A. Goree are holding down the starting linebacker spots. Alex Twine will be getting a lot of looks as well, and should be one of the first subs in.
Tate is the real wild card. Tate is the best athlete on the team, and at 6’4’’ 220, with vast experience at linebacker and safety, he can both get after the passer as well as drop into coverage. Tate was all conference in 2010 as a safety, and with 100 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 interceptions and a touchdown that year, he is a proven playmaker. He should be fully recovered from injuries that derailed his season last year.
The secondary is featuring Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle as first team cornerbacks, and Matt Robinson and Eric Franklin at free and strong safeties. McDougle paced the Terps last year with three interceptions, and Franklin was second on the team with 106 tackles. A.J. Hendy is getting the most looks as the top reserve, as he has experience at safety and cornerback.
New Defensive Coordinator Brian Stewart is smart guy, and has a ton of experience coaching the 34 defense at the NFL level with the Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans. He loves to change things up to confuse an offense and will blitz every play if he can.
I expect big things from the Terps defense for the 2012 season. They will have to step up big, shutting down opposing offenses and making enough big plays to put the Maryland offense in good positions. The Terps won’t be able to rely on the offense, at least for the first part of the season, so they will put all the weight on the defense. Something tells me they will step up.