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It's a tradition at Maryland – produce great linebackers. This season seemed no different.
The first mark Randy Edsall made on the program was shifting all-conference safety Kenny Tate to the STAR position, where he would play alongside Demetrius Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford. Together, the three would form a veteran linebacking core to set the tone for the rest of the defense.
But injuries have derailed that notion so far this season. Drakeford has missed the last three games, Tate the last two and Hartsfield was out against Clemson. And once again, the status of all three is a question mark as the team prepares for Florida State.
In their place, three freshmen have drawn the start, a part of the youth movement sweeping the defense. The Terps started five freshmen on defense against the Tigers, the highest total since 1993 and the most among FBS teams this season.
"Those kids are giving us everything that they have," Edsall said. "When Kenny, Demetrius and Darin aren't in there, we're getting some valuable experience and playing time for some young kids who are going to be around here for a long, long time."
Like Tate, Mario Rowson was a defensive back last season, and made the switch in the offseason to the STAR position. Lorne Goree, better known as L.A., is filling for Hartsfield, while true freshman Alex Twine has been playing in place of Drakeford.
"Every day and every week you can start seeing them playing a little bit more faster. That's because of experience. The more that those guys are playing, the more reps they get, you're going to start to see them play faster. Now there's less thinking and a lot more just reacting."
While both Goree and Rowson were redshirted a season ago, Twine, 17, played for Quince Orchard High School at this time last year. Now, they're playing the likes of Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State, giants in the ACC.
Defensive tackle Joe Vellano, who's commanding double- and triple-teams, allowing the young core of backers to make plays, said the quick change of competition is what impresses him the most. Last year they were playing high school football, Vellano said, "it's a little different competition."
From Friday nights to Saturdays, proving they can play on this level has been a testament to their confidence.
"Before the Clemson game I said, ‘Think your best the player when you're out there. Roll with the punches,'" Vellano said. "I think they bought in. I think a lot of guys stepped up."
But while the freshmen are drawing praise for their play, Vellano understands that the injured veterans are itching to return to the field. Both Tate and Hartsfield started all 13 games in 2010.
Instead, though, they're in training rooms receiving treatments two and three times per day. The medical staff clears the players for practice, which then determines their availability on game day. Edsall was adamant, though, that he has and never will put a player on the field if there's a possibility for further injury.
Unable to practice and unable play in games, the vets must wait until they are 100 percent before they can join their teammates in helping Maryland try to regain their winning form.
"They came here to play. Those guys -- they want to make tackles they want to make plays all game," Vellano said. "It's tough because it's just one of things that's out of your hands. It's big-time college football. You got to be at full speed and ready to go out or you're going to be counterproductive for the team."