The defense’s deepest unit has a handful of overachieving guys who could start for ACC programs, though we’ll have to see how this workmanlike crew fairs against Big Ten foes. Either way, there should be plenty of competition among the linebackers this August as there’s not much separating the listed starters from the top backups.
Aside from rush-ace Marcus Whitfield, the Terps return almost every valuable contributor from 2013, a unit that chipped in 18 sacks (nine were Whitfield’s) and helped hold opposing runners to 3.7 yards per carry.
The epitome of this blue-collar group is senior inside linebacker Cole Farrand, a three-year starter. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Jersey native battled several nagging injuries last year, including a concussion, but he still had an honorable mention all-ACC season and made preseason third team all-Big Ten. Despite missing two games, Farrand finished second on the team with 84 tackles to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and half a sack. Farrand’s 23-tackle game against Clemson was one of the most memorable individual performances last year, and it was the most stops by a Maryland player during a single game since 1990.
Farrand isn’t going to wow anyone with his speed and SportsCenter hits, but he’s a cerebral, fundamentally sound backer who more than holds his own. He’s also a leader, an anchor and a tough son of a gun -- one of the team’s best examples with how he goes about his business filling and dropping ball-carriers. Meanwhile, his coverage game continues to improve.
Fellow inside linebacker LA Goree took a step forward in 2013, finishing third on the team with 76 tackles in addition to 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. The senior missed a pair of games due to injury, and he ended up starting nine of the 11 games he appeared in. He's another blue-collar worker who fills the state sheet and has more sideline-to-sideline ability.
Goree had a nine-tackle, one-sack game against West Virginia, but his signature performance came against UVA, when he recorded 16 stops and a tackle for loss. Even so, Goree wasn’t always consistent last season, especially in coverage, so we’ll see if he takes another couple strides now that he’s entrenched atop the depth chart.
It will be interesting to see how well senior outside linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil bounces back from a torn pectoral muscle that limited him to six contests last year. When healthy, this surprising Seton Hill transfer has proven he can get to the quarterback and perform at an all-conference level.
Cudjoe-Virgil was well on his way to a breakout 2013 when he became Maryland’s most consistent rush linebacker with three sacks and numerous pressures in just six games. The 6-2, 255 pounder also racked up 18 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception before tearing his pec against UVA. The Baltimore product is on several preseason watch lists, and now that he’s healthy there’s no reason to believe he won’t revert to form in 2014.
At the second outside backer spot, senior Matt Robinson cemented his spot after making a smooth transition from safety last year. The 6-3, 245-pounder from Columbia, Md., finished fourth on the Terps with 73 tackles, while filling up the stat sheet with 10 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, eight pass defenses and half a sack. Robinson had a career-high 17 tackles in the regular season finale against NC State, giving him something to build off of heading into his final year in College Park.
Robinson has battled injuries throughout his career (he missed two games last season and most of the spring), though, and he needs to remain healthy for UMD’s defense to perform at a high level. He’s one of the team’s most important pieces what with his coverage skills and ability to cut down runners in the open field, and without him in the lineup there’s a hole left in the middle. He's also one of the defense's top leaders.
The man who has pressed Robinson for time the last couple years is senior thumper Alex Twine. The 6-foot, 235-pounder from Gaithersburg, Md., saw action in 11 games and made three starts, recording 49 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the process. Twine had a 10-tackle game against Boston College and a nine-tackle effort against UVA. He’s also a standout on special teams and will undoubtedly fill that role again this season, generating lots of highlight-reel hits, in addition to rotating in with Robinson.
Another key No. 2 is sophomore Yannik Ngakoue, a pass-rush specialist with breakout potential provided he gets enough field time behind Cudjoe-Virgil. Ngakoue saw action in all 13 games last year and came away with 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pick. He had a big sack and forced fumble in the win against Virginia Tech, and had three tackles for loss against Clemson. He has all the physical tools, and took a big step forward in the spring, refining his technique and using his hands better.
Two young linebackers to watch for this year are inside backers Jermaine Carter and Jalen Brooks. Both redshirt freshmen were praised for their scout-team efforts last seasson and have made strides this offseason. Carter, who tore his knee in spring ball but is expected back, is currently listed as Farrand’s top backup, while Brooks is running second to Goree.
Another redshirt freshman, Cavon Walker, may not see the field much behind Robinson and Twine at outside linebacker, but he looks the part and should be a valuable contributor when it’s his turn, as well as on special teams. Meanwhile, sophomore Brock Dean is sitting third on the chart behind Farrand and Carter, but he did well in spring ball and should at least have a special teams presence.
The Terps did lose one valuable contributor in sophomore Abner Logan, who was placed on disciplinary probation by the school back in April. Logan has been allowed to practice, but he can’t suit up until 2015 since it’s a year-long suspension. He does, however, have an appeal set for October, so could be reinstated then if all goes well.
He played in 12 games last year and recorded 37 tackles and two tackles for loss, and was expected to be Goree’s top backup this year. He's another rangy thumper type who covers ground and lays the wood fearlessly.
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