Maryland’s position of most overhaul this spring was linebacker, where the Terps said goodbye to four senior starters to graduation, lost its top rising star to the defensive line, and ushered in a new 4-3 scheme. Whew.
When the dust settled, and honors candidate and future star Yannick Ngakoue was settled in at his new “Bandit” spot as an edge rusher up front, that left three new faces on the midline trying to replace all the three-year starters/stars that moved on after last season led by Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson, L.A. Goree and Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil, not to mention some top reserves/spot starters like Alex Twine, who was also a senior.
Most were the top tackle leaders statistically in 2014, along with safety Sean Davis, and now the mantle has been passed to a new batch led by big-time thumper Jermaine Carter, the 6-0, 240-pound rising sophomore who terrorized the middle this spring and emerged as the leader, and alongside him the physical Abner Logan, back fully from a partial-year suspension last season, as well as rising sophomore Jalen Brooks, an excellent athlete still fine-tuning some of his technical points who got valuable reps last following injuries to the corps.
Nipping at Logan’s heels was back-from-foot-surgery (and the unit’s best physical specimen/hitter), the hulking sophomore Cavon Walker, who was able to earn a medical hardship after breaking his foot early last fall. He is strong against the run, and becoming more of a technician and better at recognition in the passing game.
You also have up-and-comers like freshman Tyler Burke getting a lot of reps this spring, walk-on Matt Gillespie the same, as the overall numbers on the unit are thin after the scheme change and graduation. Also moving up to put his hand in the dirt was OLB Chandler Burkett, now at “Bandit” as well, and he had a productive spring and batted his share of balls at the line and had some TFLs to his credit, as he's more of a player now that he has added some much-needed bulk.
The Terps also have junior-to-be Brock Dean, who the coaches praised on more than one occasion in the spring, a valuable utility guy who has paid his dues and is trying to get more in the mix.
Junior Avery Thompson sat out the spring (labrum) and will be in the rotation once he returns, while also moving up, of course, was OLB Jesse Aniebonam to the edge spot on the line as well.
But maybe the most promising rookie, the freshman Tyler Burke (6-3, 240) drew the most praises from coaches this spring as “one to watch” as his development appears on the fast track. He is big, athletic and strong, and appears quite cerebral.
All in all, the Terps have a lot of production, and numbers, to replace, and we all know this new corps can fill and hit and help stop the run. But the Terps, as a whole, must get better in coverage, as that was a bugaboo much of last season and the year before.
They may now have quicker, faster athletes to do so, but only time will tell. It didn’t help, either, last season that most every linebacker missed time due to injuries and the unit was often in flux/change. It's now a unit with some potential young stars, but also one that needs to be replenished again in recruiting. Stopping the run in the new 4-3 scheme in Year Two in the Big Ten is first and foremost, but the Terps 'backers can't have tight ends and the like routinely run by them again in coverage, as they experienced last season all too often.
Spring Football Rewind: Linebacker
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