If there was one Terp that was dominant from start to finish in spring camp it was rising junior “Bandit” rush end Yannick Ngakoue, who capped the month with an MVP-like performance in the annual Red-White Game on April 11.
Thriving at his new spot in the Terps new 4-3 defense, Ngakoue put his hand in the first for the first time since his sophomore year of high school, and the results were tremendous. All camp he blew up backfields with sacks, quarterback hurries, tackles for loss and several breakups at the line, giving Maryland its best defensive weapon for the fall.
In the spring game it was no different, as the former Friendship Collegiate Academy (Washington, D.C.) Under Armour All-American linebacker had three sacks, a handful of quarterback hurries, multiple batted balls and a few tackles for loss, terrorizing both the signal callers and runners in the backfield. His star power just got that much stronger, and it won’t be long before he is playing on Sundays. In the battle for top defender in camp, from at least what we saw, he takes honors over other finalists linebacker Jermaine Carter and cornerback Sean Davis. Great athlete and great pursuit this spring, carving his niche at his new spot.
Overall, the defensive-line unit was in a bit of flux after starting tackle David Shaw (patella) went down with a knee injury/surgery in the first week of camp. It was an old high school injury that had to be cleaned up, and he is expected back for the start of fall camp.
Meanwhile, the Terps were also missing starting junior tackle Quinton Jefferson (knee), who sat the spring while rehabbing from last fall’s torn ACL. But he, too, will be back for the fall, and is moving inside from end in the new alignment.
Both Shaw, who played as a true freshman and impressed Randy Edsall mightily, and Jefferson, will form a solid one-two punch inside for the Terps, while at the other end spot hard-charging and hard-working junior Roman Braglio will man that spot. He, too, has improved each year as a pass rusher, and has some solid moves and a good first step as a crafty edge guy.
With the injured tackles on the shelf, it was a good opportunity for young reserves like Malik Jones and Kingsley Opara to get multiple reps, and each had their moments, especially the way Opara closed camp, becoming more of a disruptive force and looking more like he belonged, earning line coach Chad Wilt’s kudos as his biggest spring surprise. It’s time both sophomores take the next step and get in the rotation as contributors, and each progressed last month.
Among others, the Terps are high on redshirt freshman end Brett Kulka, who Edsall mentioned a few times in camp, as he is long and athletic and has a good motor. Others like redshirt freshman Chandler Burkett also had their moments, he with several batted balls at the line in camp as well. Former walk-on tackle Ty Tucker also got some reps this spring and has a little umph to his game inside. Meanwhile, another reserve, DT Ruben Franco (labrum) sat out the spring rehabbing. Also, up-and-coming rush end Jesse Aniebonam dinged his knee midway through camp so the Terps shut him down. It was nothing serious, and he remains Ngakoue’s understudy, and certainly one to watch for the future, with several of the same attributes as his mentor.
The new defensive front should allow Maryland a better opportunity in the run-heavy Big Ten in Year Two in the league, while Ngakoue could generate the kind of edge pressure fans haven’t seen at College Park since Shawne Merriman was wreaking havoc on backfields over a decade ago.
Spring Football Rewind: Defensive Line
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