Final Report Card: Defense And Special Teams

Maryland finished its 2014 campaign at 7-6 and 4-4 in the Big Ten. Here are our final player grades for the Terps’ defense and special teams this year, followed by a look ahead to 2015.

Maryland finished its 2014 campaign at 7-6 and 4-4 in the Big Ten. Here are our final player grades for the Terps’ defense and special teams this year, followed by a look ahead to 2015.

Defensive Line

Maryland’s total defense finished 94th nationally at 436.2 yards allowed per game, 98th in rush defense at 201.9 yards per game (4.49 yards per carry allowed), and 76th in pass defense (234 yards per game allowed).

The numbers aren’t pretty, but they don’t tell the whole story, and they certainly don’t define the Terps’ defensive line. UMD’s three trenchmen were probably UMD’s most effective group overall, despite a couple less-than-stellar outings against top-notch competition.

Defensive end Andre Monroe was the team’s most valuable player this year, finishing second in the Big Ten with 10 sacks and in the process setting the school’s all-time career quarterback takedown record. Monroe also had 61 tackles, a team-high 14 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

The D.C. native was the team’s lone defensive standout against Ohio State, recording two sacks, and Monroe showed out against Stanford with a sack and two tackles for loss as well. Monroe also racked up a pair of key tackles for loss in the win at Penn State.

An undersized yet relentless edge rusher, Monroe will go down as one of Maryland’s most potent defensive ends of all time.

Lining up next to Monroe at tackle, classmate Darius Kilgo was one of the more underrated Big Ten defenders this year. Kilgo didn’t always shine -- he had subpar performances against Stanford, Indiana and Michigan State – but for the majority of the season he was a rock in the middle. More than a mere space eater, Kilgo disrupted the backfield occasionally and proved to be a sound gap plugger. Kilgo ate up multiple blockers, keeping the linebackers clean, and once in awhile busted through to make the play himself.

Kilgo had a big six-tackle, one-sack game against Iowa, while he helped stymie the likes of Michigan, Penn State and Syracuse as well. He finished the year with 43 stops, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and four fumble recoveries.

The opposite end, Keith Bowers, ended up starting 10 games after Quinton Jefferson went down with a season-ending injury. Jefferson had recorded eight tackles and a sack through three games, proving to at least be a solid stand-in for the departed Joe Vellano. His loss sapped UMD’s depth and also left the line with one less effective point-of-attack defender.

Now, that’s not exactly a knock on Bowers, who didn’t perform poorly this year. He ended up with 40 tackles, six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery, respectable numbers to say the least. But compared to Kilgo and Monroe, Bowers sort of became that unheralded third rung. Bowers disappeared for stretches, and opposing offenses routinely attacked his side, having much more success running in his direction as opposed to Monroe’s.

Rotational end Roman Braglio (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and tackle David Shaw provided valuable minutes off the bench, though both need to improve as their roles expand moving forward. Senior Spencer Myers, meanwhile, had 18 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, but he faded a bit during the latter part of the year.

Final Grade: A-minus

Moving Forward: The Terps lose all three starters next year: Monroe, Kilgo and Bowers. Jefferson will return for his senior season, and will likely be asked to anchor the line. Braglio could claim a starting defensive end role, while Shaw could be ticketed for plenty of time at nose. Malik Jones, Brett Kulka and Azubuike Ukandu will all have expanded roles, as will Kingsley Opara, who missed 2014 with an injury.

Incoming freshman Adam McLean, should he make it to campus, could have an immediate impact provided he earn it. Keiron Howard and potentially defensive end Austrian Robinson, who is uncommitted but considered a Terps lean, would probably project as redshirts.

Linebackers

The Terps’ linebacker core was supposed to be a team strength, and while the unit did show well at times, it wasn’t always consistent, especially in coverage. The group mostly did well in run defense, despite allowing 4.5 yards per carry and 202 yards per game (98th in the FBS), but they also bear some responsibility for the 234 passing-yards-allowed per (76th in the FBS) and 12-yards-allowed per reception.

Maryland’s best cover backer, senior Matt Robinson, missed six games with various shoulder ailments, and his absence was felt whenever an opposing tight end or receiver settled in-between UMD’s linebackers and safeties. Moreover, Robinson proved to be a dependable open-field tackler who limited big gains, and when he was out, teams like Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin picked up plenty of yards after contact. Robinson finished with 34 tackles and 10 breakups in seven games.

Robinson’s backup, Jalen Brooks, looked a step slow when picking up receivers who crossed his face, which is to be expected for a first-time starter. Brooks has potential given his smarts and tackling prowess, but he’s still developing. In 12 games, he had 21 tackles and four breakups.

Inside linebacker Cole Farrand led the team with 118 tackles and proved to be a dependable downhill thumper. In most games he actively filled gaps and stalemated runners in the hole. He took tight closing angles, didn’t over-pursue and basically quarterbacked the defense.

In addition to his tackle numbers, Farrand finished with five tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and two fumble recoveries. Farrand played a key role in Maryland’s win at Michigan, and was all over the field during the loss against Michigan State (18 tackles).

That said, Farrand isn’t the fleetest of foot and had problems when asked to defend sideline to sideline. He also had issues defeating blocks against burly blockers, while his pass coverage was shaky at best.

Fellow inside linebacker L.A. Goree performed admirably in his first year as a full-time starter, recording 98 stops, two tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. Goree was fairly consistent all year, highlighted by a 14-tackle effort against OSU and an eight-tackle outing versus Iowa. While not a true thumper, Goree wrapped well, while displaying some solid foot-speed when tracking down runners in the open field. Goree, like Farrand, had some problems in coverage, but for the most part he did well in 2014.

Outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue lived up to his reputation as a potentially elite rush backer. Ngakoue only had 37 total tackles, but 13.5 of those were for loss and six went for sacks. He also had four breakups, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

Ngakoue could probably stand to become a better edge setter and open-field tackler, but as a pass rusher he was one of the Big Ten’s best. He tallied a big sack against Iowa and had another against Penn State, helping spur the Terps to victory during both games.

Another outside backer, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, was limited to 10 games due to injury, but in a rotational role he was a presence in the backfield and forced several hurried throws. Cudjoe-Virgil did fairly well in run defense as well, and stepped up in coverage with eight breakups. But Cudjoe-Virgil only had two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss this year, and more was expected after a breakout 2013. He didn’t do enough to reclaim his starting role and disappeared at times.

Final Grade: B-minus

Moving Forward: Farrand, Robinson, Goree and Cudjoe-Virgil all graduate, which means the young guns are going to have to step up. Ngakoue will remain a starter at outside backer, while Jalen Brooks should slide into the same role opposite him. Expect talented sophomore Abner Logan, who was suspended for half of 2014, to claim a starting spot next fall, while Jermaine Carter (27 tackles this year) could claim Farrand’s spot at inside backer.

Talented freshman Jesse Aniebonam (14 tackles) should see plenty of time as a rush linebacker after flashing potential this fall. Also, expect junior Avery Thompson, freshman inside backer Tyler Burke and sophomore Cavon Walker to have expanded roles in 2015.

Pass-rush specialist Nnamdi Egbuaba missed 2014 with an injury, but he could earn time in certain blitz packages should he return healthy and ready to roll. Incoming linebackers Brett Zanotto, Gus Little, Isaiah Davis and Mbi Tanyi all project as redshirts at this time.

Defensive Backs

It was an up-and-down campaign for the Terps’ secondary, which gave up a number of big plays but also saw Will Likely develop into one of the Big Ten’s elite cornerbacks.

The 5-foot-7 sophomore Likely wasn’t flawless (he was exposed against Rutgers and Wisconsin), but for the majority of 2014 he proved to be a lockdown defender. Likely ended up leading the Big Ten with six interceptions, to go along with 83 tackles, 24 pass defenses, four tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

An aggressive, never-back-down corner, Likely excelled at shadowing receivers, jumping routes and in-air defense. He was physical at the line, even against big, muscular wideouts, while actively challenging taller receivers for jump balls.

He had a nose for the football, anticipating throws and bolting forward for ill-advised passes in the flat. On top of that, Likely excelled in run defense, unafraid to stick his nose in there and make a stop on the edge

Fellow corner Alvin Hill was well on his way to a solid season in his first year starting, but he went down with a season-ending injury after four games. Hill finished with 13 tackles, a pick and seven breakups; without him in the lineup the Terps struggled to contain top wideouts.

Backup Jeremiah Johnson, whom Hill supplanted in the preseason, played reasonably well in certain packages, but he had problems in press. When opponents sought to stretch the field, they typically attacked Johnson, who looked a step slow in coverage this year. He had some issues flipping and running with elite speedsters downfield.

Johnson ended up with 43 tackles, two tackles for loss, a pick and nine pass defenses.

Jarrett Ross rotated in as well and had six breakups, but he was prone to fundamental errors from time to time. He’ll need to work on his read-react time and footwork heading into 2015.

At safety, neither Sean Davis nor Anthony Nixon, both returning starters, had standout seasons covering deep. Both allowed their share of long pass plays, either through miscommunication or failure to recover. They each had issues in the West Virginia loss, while receivers from Ohio State, Rutgers and Wisconsin had success over the middle too.

Davis did well in run defense, however, and ended up second on the squad with 115 tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, an interception and 16 pass defenses. He had 17 stops against Wisconsin and 14 more against OSU.

Nixon, meanwhile, finished with 62 stops, an interception, nine pass defenses and a fumble recovery. He also recorded a blocked kick on special teams. Nixon did reasonably well covering the intermediate areas and cutting down open-field runners, but struggles arose when he had to turn and run.

The third safety, Zach Dancel, had 15 tackles and four pass defenses.

Final Grade: C

Moving Forward: Likely, Nixon and Davis are all set to return in 2015, along with Alvin Hill. Only Jeremiah Johnson will graduate among the main secondary players. Jarrett Ross and Dancel will also be back.

Look for backup safety Elvis Dennah and junior college transfer Denzel Conyers to see plenty of action next year, while freshmen Josh Woods, Daniel Ezeagwu and Antwaine Carter should have expanded roles. Incoming freshman Darnell Savage could be a potential stud, while incoming safety Jameel Cook is probably bound for a redshirt season.

Special Teams

The Lou Groza Award winner, Brad Craddock, was Maryland’s most efficient weapon in 2014. Practically automatic, Craddock connected on 18 of 19 field goal attempts, including 9-of-9 from 40-49 yards and 2-of-3 beyond 50. His long this year was 57 yards, coming against Ohio State.

Craddock also averaged 62.5 yards on kickoffs and had 29 touchbacks on 75 attempts.

Punter Nate Renfro didn’t enjoy the same kind of success, though. Renfro ranked 102nd nationally with a 34.67 net average, a couple shanks driving down his totals. He ended up sending just 12 of his 84 boots 50-plus yards, while placing 21 punts inside the 20-yard line and having nine go for touchbacks.

Maryland’s kick returners got the job done, however, finishing sixth in the FBS with a 25.5-yard average. Stefon Diggs picked up almost 24 yards per bringback, with a long of 59 yards. Will Likely topped him, however, averaging 31 yards per, including a 100-yard touchdown return against Stanford.

Likely was just as effective returning punts, averaging 11.2 yards per bringback. Against West Virginia, he took a punt back 69 yards to the house, giving him two return scores in 2014.

While Likely and Diggs got the job done, the Terps’ coverage units were less-than-stellar. Their punt defense ranked 101st nationally at 10.48 yards allowed per bringback, while the kick coverage finished 104th at 22.87 yards allowed per.

Final Grade: B-plus

Moving Forward: Fortunately for Maryland, Craddock returns for one more season, with Adam Greene likely acting as his backup once again.

Renfro is graduating early, so that means either Lee Shrader or newcomer Nick Pritchard will be next year’s punter.

Diggs is probably bound for the NFL, but Will Likely will be back as a return specialist. If Taivon Jacobs, who missed this year with an ACL tear, is good to go, he should have returner role too. DeAndre Lane, Jacquille Veii and incoming freshman Ty Johnson are also possibilities.

Both long snappers, Christian Carpenter and Nate Adams, are due back, so they’ll battle it out for the starting gig in that department.

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