COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Cole Farrand only has a vague idea how and when it happened. By that point in the game, after a gargantuan effort that resulted in 22 total tackles against a ranked Clemson squad, Maryland's inside linebacker wasn't really thinking about much else beyond "find ball, tackle ball carrier." So when he found out following the Oct. 26, 2013, 40-27 loss that he had sustained a concussion, the 6-foot-4, 245 pounder was a bit surprised.
"I honestly don't remember what happened too much. I was just in a zone, just playing, and I think on like the third or fourth to last play of the game [the concussion] happened around there," Farrand said. "But it's one of those things where you can try and prevent it, but guys are hitting and sometimes heads hit. It's important to keep proper technique, and unfortunately for me it didn't happen and it cost me a game."
The concussion, which knocked Farrand out of the following week's Syracuse bout (a 20-3 loss), was just the latest in an injury-plagued season. Farrand had suffered a broken bone in his hand early during the year and was forced to wear a club the majority of the fall. Later on, after the concussion, he had a shoulder injury against Virginia Tech and missed the next game against Boston College (a 29-26 Maryland loss).
Thus, coming off a standout sophomore campaign that saw Farrand establish himself as the team's most reliable returning defender, he followed up with a solid 2013. He led the team in tackles per game and finished with 84 stops, highlighted by that double-11 against the Tigers.
"It's an extra factor in there, playing with a club on one hand, it makes it more difficult. But at the same time I had a club against Clemson and that was my best game all season," Farrand said. "The amount of effort you put into the game is how well you're gonna play, no matter what the conditions are.
"Last year, it didn't turn out the way I wanted by any stretch, but I wasn't upset with my performance. I know there's a lot of room for improvement and I want to get better this year."
Yes, the expectations and responsibilities are being heaped onto Farrand in this his final campaign in College Park. Even though he assumed the role last season, Farrand said both head coach Randy Edsall and inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski have hinted how he needs to be that glue guy in 2014. On top of that, Farrand is banking on playing every game and once again exceeding the 100-tackle mark, which he fell short of last year.
"Cole brings a great deal of leadership to the linebacker corps," Dudzinksi said earlier this spring. "When you're healthy you play faster and better, that's the key. When he's healthy he's a pretty good football player. We love his toughness, his work ethic, and he's a guy that's out there every day in practice playing hard. Sometimes it's unfortunate guys get banged up and aren't 100 percent, but I'm just looking for Cole to stay healthy and work every day."
During the initial few practices, Farrand said he's spent a good deal of time breaking down film and identifying the "little things" he needs to improve on, such as angles, tackling form and overall knowledge of the defense. He called it a "process," and the goal is to pick up on some new nuance each and every day.
On the field, Farrand seems to be flying around as fast and furious as ever while chatting up his teammates, effectively assuming the aforementioned leadership role.
"I'm a senior now, so it's my duty to step up and lead, especially for the younger guys," Farrand said. "That's something I like to do, take that leadership role. I like to take charge, and I try to make the defense as much fun as possible by yelling, screaming, running around. I think it makes it much more enjoyable for everyone."
It wasn't a very enjoyable day March 8, however. Evidently the defense, and the linebackers in particular, did not have one of its better practices. Afterwards Edsall said the likes of Farrand and fellow senior backers Matt Robinson and L.A. Goree needed to pick up the pace.
With Maryland's defense performing fairly well last season, despite surrendering a so-so 374 yards and 25.3 points per game, there could be a sense, Edsall hinted at, the unit "thinks they know it all."
"[The linebackers] have got to get better with their reads. That's what's disappointing right now, their eye discipline," said Edsall, who noted that Robinson was dinged up a bit. "They have to treat things like they don't know everything. They have to work and get better with fundamentals and technique to play faster. With them being seniors, you don't expect to see some of the mistakes you did today out of them. They should be more aggressive attacking downhill and those sort of things."
Farrand didn't disagree with his coach, but he noted how there are good days and bad days when going through spring. He mentioned how there has to be more consistency, because up-and-down preseason performances will inevitably lead to an up-and-down fall.
"But I still like the way the defense is looking overall. We have room for improvement, but we're flying around, having fun, and we have a good group here," Farrand said. "And you can expect good things again from us.
"Matt [Robinson], L.A., they're looking as good as ever. They're great players and I expect big things from them."
But while Farrand gave props to his classmates, he acknowledged the young linebackers have balled out this spring. Sophomore Yannick Ngakoue is slotted to start at one outside linebacker spot, Abner Logan has stepped up, while Jermaine Carter, Cavon Walker and Jalen Brooks should all see time rotating in.
"I really like the way the younger guys are playing. They're stepping up," Farrand said. "They have a year in the program so they know what they're doing now, and they're getting better."
It's still rather early, and there's time for those underclassmen to continue developing and the older guys to meet expectations. But they'd better get the kinks worked out fairly soon, because Maryland's going to need Farrand and Co. in rare form in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten.
"Definitely, we want to show the Big Ten what we can do," Farrand said. "We want to show them what Maryland defense is all about."
Farrand Healthy, Ready to Ball Out in Big Ten
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