Maryland's biggest off-season move was to change defensive coordinators, and in the wake of that defensive schemes to a 4-3 after a year of hard knocks in the run-heavy Big Ten.
And while the strength of Maryland's defense this fall will be its secondary, where the focus will be more 'man' coverage, there will be plenty of intrigue up front on the line where there are new faces in new places hoping to slow those downhill attacks and disrupt the quarterback more. Last season Maryland gave up some 200 yards on the ground rushing, and ranked near the bottom in such categories.
Most new is the debut of the 'Bandit' rush end spot, where junior honors candidate Yannick Ngakoue will play with his hand in the dirt for the first time since his early high school years. And he hit the ground running in the spring, where he was the most dominant force in camp both disrupting the quarterback, as well making big, sudden-change plays in space. He is a future pro, be it this year or next, and could break out this fall in the new scheme. Maybe some shades of Shawne Merriman, etc., wreaking havoc outside with his explosiveness, agility and motor.
At the other end spot will be junior Roman Braglio, who is not going to 'wow' you with his strength or athleticism, but is Maryland's 'lunch-pail' guy, one that brings maximum effort and excellent technique each time out.
The battles should be tight, though, as the Terps have lots of young talent on the edge, like sophomore and former Good Counsel four-star signee Jesse Aniebonam, and converted outside 'backer Cavon Walker, all 260 pounds of him, waiting in the wings and battling for significant reps behind the starters. Walker was the most physically transformed player we saw this summer, and he broke his foot early last season and earned an extra medical year. Aniebonam was slowed in the spring by a nagging knee injury, but he is back. And there are others, like budding redshirt freshman end Brett Kulka, who drew Randy Edsall's praise in spring camp for his work ethic and upside. There is also rangy converted outside backer sophomore Chandler Burkett, another good athlete. It is a deep group rising up in the rotation, on a unit that will rotate a lot of players this season and stay fresh.
Meanwhile, inside there will be some newness as well, as after missing spring camp following fall knee surgery junior Quinton Jefferson returns, but this time inside at tackle. The Terps most athletic lineman, Jefferson is primed for a break-out kind of season, too, something the Terps need from the Pittsburgh native and former rush end with quick feet and long arms. Behind him is spring starter Malik Jones, the former defensive end, who looks a lot stouter but does not appear to have lost any of his athleticism or first step in that long, 6-4 frame of his. The Terps also have redshirt freshman Brett Kulka developing in reserve.
Next to them will be sophomore plugger David Shaw, who earned valuable reps last fall as a true freshman, but also missed most of the spring with a clean-up knee procedure from an old injury. He will be a good space/offensive lineman 'eater,' occupying blockers for the 'backers to make plays and clean up behind him.
Behind him at tackle nipping at the heels will be sophomore Kingsley Opara, who after putting some injury issues behind, is a more athletic talent who can make more plays and came on late in the spring to earn Edsall's praise as well. He, too, could be poised for bigger things as he finally cracks the rotation for meaningful reps this season. Opara is another guy Maryland needs to step up after two years of learning and finding his way at times. The Terps also have reserves junior Ty Tucker, junior Ruben Franco, and junior Azubuike Ukandu to help fortify the interior. Talented four-star signee Adam McLean is still expected to take a redshirt year following knee surgery last winter, while mid-year prep school enrollee and tackle Oseh Saine showed promise in the spring with his raw but athletic body/game. The rest of the freshmen are expected to redshirt.
With their new-found talent on the edge in the 4-3, and with more numbers inside, look for Maryland to apply more pressure and rotate lots of bodies as they try to turn up the heat some in Year Two in the Big Ten. Gone are three starters -- sack-master Andre Monroe, Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo -- but Maryland is more athletic and deep this time around and in the new scheme.
TT's Summer Football Thoughts: Defensive Line
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