2011 Preview: A.J. Francis vs. Andre Monroe

A preview of the battle for the Terps' defensive tackle position.

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If you were to glance at the Maryland football depth chart, there is no doubt that the biggest eye-opener on the page is Andre Monroe is penciled in to start at defensive tackle opposite of Joe Vellano, a spot that he occupied and thrived in the previous two seasons.

Monroe, a redshirt freshman, versus Francis, a four-year veteran, has the making of what should be the best position battle entering the summer.

After collecting 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for losses in 2010, as well as 44 tackles (second among defensive linemen), Francis warranted a preseason third team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection by Follow Sam on Phil Steele .

But with a different coaching regime entering the frame, no position is always guaranteed.

Towards the conclusion of spring practices, first-year head coach Randy Edsall specified the defensive line as one five areas where there was an ongoing competition. Among the candidates vying for starting roles, Zachariah Kerr was declared ineligible and Justin Anderson returned to his original position, defensive end.

Edsall's mentor at Syracuse, Boston College and the Jacksonville Jaguars was Tom Coughlin, the Super Bowl-winning head coach of the New York Giants. Like Coughlin, Edsall is a firm believer in the disrupting the quarterback, which of course begins with the front seven.

Enter Monroe, winner of the Terrapins' scout team defensive player of the year last season. A three-star prospect from St. John's College High School (Washington, D.C.), Monroe proved to be a dynamic gap-filler and pass-rusher from the defensive tackle position during his senior season, which culminated with a first team All-Met, All-Conference and All-City honors.

However, during this transition phase, it was the veteran leadership throughout the defense that was going to be depended upon for stability. Of the 11 defenders, nine are returning from last year and have starting experience, minus defensive end Clarence Murphy and Monroe.

It begs the question of what was Edsall's motive for demoting Francis to second string. Is it to tactic to motivate him, encourage him to outplay the freshman and earn a starting spot before the end of the summer? Or is he trying to assemble an outstanding rotation of defensive tackles, with Vellano, Francis and Monroe spelling one another to stay fresh throughout games?

The rising star or the proven incumbent – that is the question heading into summer practices about three weeks away, with the most intriguing position battle of the offseason is about to launch.

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