Spring Football Previews: Linebackers

A breakdown of Maryland's linebacker unit heading into spring practice March 8.

With the shift to a 3-4, odd-man front scheme with a hybrid stand-up 'backer in rising junior star Jesse Aniebonam this month in spring camp, the other linebacker spots will be more hotly contested.

Maryland returns inside thumper Jermaine Carter (6-feet, 240 pounds), the rising junior who came into his own last fall with a team-leading 103 tackles, while ranking second in tackles-for-a-loss with 14. Stout against the run and instinctive, Carter improved against the pass/in space as the season wore on. The whole unit needed to do that against the pass, and same for this coming season, where they often got out of position, or did not shine when it came to open-field tackles.

Carter will man the middle along with other likely starter, junior Abner Logan, who missed much of last under suspension. Another thumper, the 6-1, 242-pounder is looking like Vernon Davis physically, and he will be a welcome site back in the middle.

The other outside spot could go to the man who took on the Kenny Tate outside/edge rusher specialist role late last season, converted safety Denzel Conyers (6-3, 212), the former junior college transfer, who played a a reserve in nine games and finished with 15 tackles including two for-a-loss and a sack. Conyers looked quick off the edge in blitz packages, and we know new defensive coordinator Scot Shafer likes to run some exotic packages to bring the pressure.

Also, the Terps return junior starter Jalen Brooks (6-1, 232), another talent that got better as he learned on-the-job last season. Brooks was fifth on the team in tackles with 64 after a slow start, and also came up with two interceptions as he got better around the ball and tackled cleaner.

Overall, linebacker is still light in terms of the roster, but there are some key reserves trying to crack the depth. Freshman Brett Zanotto (5-10, 220) made the most of burning his shirt right away, ranking 13th on the team with 23 tackles and a tackle-for-a-loss in spot time. Talk about a guy with a nose for the ball/good instincts, he was always around it and making plays despite a tad undersized. Freshman Gus Little (6-2, 235) is another physical talent with upside, as is redshirt freshman Isaiah Davis (6-1, 225), the kid brother of Sean Davis, who showed promise on scout team.

The Terps also have sophomore Tyler Burke (6-3, 245), who played in all 12 games last season, and sophomore Nnamdi Egbuaba (6-0, 224), another physical talent, coming up in the ranks. Meanwhile, sophomore Melvin Keihn (6-1, 211), who sat out last season after a transfer from Virginia Tech, played defensive end last year on scout team, but seemingly will project to one of the outside linebacker spots this year. He's another long-armed, edge defender with good instincts and pursuit.

The Terps have to keep replenishing low numbers at the position through recruiting, and could possibly add more this spring, ala a Jefferson Ashiru fifth-year transfer late pickup like last year. Both of the 2016 signees will be redshirts come the fall. 

But as for this year, the starters look very solid for first-year Coach Matt Barnes. But now some young talent has to step up into the two-deep to continue to build the position with a solid rotation.       

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