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Only one world captures the style of the 2010 Maryland defense: relentless.
Under then-defensive coordinator Don Brown, who has since left to coach the defense at Connecticut upon Randy Edsall's arrival in College Park, the Terps' defense revolved around the blitz. However, with linebackers and defensive linemen consistently on the attack instead of dropping back into coverage, there is elevated pressure on the secondary to prevent big plays through the air.
According to Football Outsider's 2010 Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), Maryland was ranked No. 21 overall. Translation: only 20 teams in the nation were more efficient given their opponent's offensive capabilities.
Despite the high rating, the Terps were below average in their secondary stats. The percentage of explosive drives against them (EX) – when an opposing offense's drive averages at least 10 yards per play – averaged out to .092. The percentage of methodical drives against them (ME) – in which an opposing offense's drives persisted for 10 or more plays – was .190.
In contrast, Miami, the Atlantic Coast Conference's top pass defense last season, was the ninth-ranked team in defensive FEI. Their EX rating was .075 and ME was .096. Overall, the Hurricanes' pass defense allowed opposing passers to complete 5 percent fewer passes, throw for 80 fewer yards and allowed eight fewer touchdowns on the year.
Under Edsall now, a defensive backs coach at Syracuse, Boston College and for the Jacksonville Jaguars under Tom Coughlin, as well as a defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, the Terps will have a different defensive look in 2011.
"I feel like [the defense] has more responsibility, and in our old defense we blitzed a lot so we didn't have to cover for as long as we do now. We just have a lot more responsibility and we just have a lot more things that we have to do in this defense and I like it," defensive back Trenton Hughes told reporters following the annual Red-White Spring Game at the end of April.
"I feel like it's better for us to because we get to really get a feel for the position and we've learned so much so far playing for [coach Edsall]. I feel like I've learned more in one week than I learned in a whole year and it's crazy but it's just a lot more responsibilities to have."
Hughes, who recorded a team-high nine pass breakups starting all 13 games last season, will be shifted to the nickelback this year in favor of sophomore Dexter McDougle. After an impressive spring and an impressive Red-White game outing in which he picked off Danny O'Brien, McDougle took advantage of the wide-open competition for the starting job opposite Cameron Chism.
"There's really good competition," Edsall told reporters in a teleconference following the third week of spring practice. "Guys are competing and putting pressure on the other guys."
The incumbent opposite of McDougle is Chism, a two-year starter and 2011 preseason all-conference selection. Chism finished 2010 with 70 sacks and eight pass breakups. He has started 23 straight games, most on the team, since being propelled in action in 2009 when Nolan Carroll was injured.
In the Red-White game, Chism registered a game-high 11 tackles (tied with Kenny Tate for the lead) and an interception after zero all of last season.
In addition to a new look and a new style of play in 2011, it appears the team is poised for more success, too.
Todd Bradford, Maryland's first-year defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, is inheriting a secondary that finished third in the ACC with 19 interceptions last year. Bradford led a Tulsa defense that finished 14th in the nation in third-down conversations (34 percent) and 30th in turnovers caused (26).
The Golden Eagles allowed fewer than 200 yards through the air per game, and did not allow rival East Carolina to score a touchdown in their contest last season. In contrast, Maryland allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw nearly 230 yards per game, and in the Military Bowl against that same East Carolina team the Pirates scored twice, albeit in a 51-20 blowout.
The combination of seasoned veterans atop the depth chart at cornerback this year is perhaps one of the most formidable units in the ACC. Behind them, though, a group of young, inexperienced talent.
Johnson, a redshirt freshman, was a consensus all-state selection in 2009 at nearby Suitland High School. He recorded 99 tackles and four interceptions during his senior season.
After battling injuries all of 2010 and a shoulder injury during the spring, Edsall said Graham was vying for a starting job this season. A sophomore, Graham played in just seven games last year, recording a dozen total tackles.
Clark and Hendy headlined the defensive backs in this year's recruiting class. Clark, a Florida native, was touted for good field awareness that excelled in deep coverage and reading quarterbacks. Hendy, highlighting the local crop of talent, hails from nearby Bowie High School. At 6-foot-1, Hendy's a bigger cornerback who can play physical with receivers. He picked off five passes during his senior year.
Thomas, who played high school locally at Gwynn Park High School, earned Capital Athletic Conference All-Academic team honors twice at Salisbury University. He did not see action as a junior last year.