"The first time [Covington] read pass, he rushed. He was supposed to drop," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "And Chris was all upset about it and I said ‘Chris, playing the LEO position, most of the time he's rushing, so when he read pass, he rushed.'"
And as payback, Turner pulled a quick one on Covington: "The other day [Covington] was not reading the backs, he was reading the quarterback. The quarterback would reverse out and he was going opposite the play," Friedgen said.
OK, so it hasn't been the smoothest learning process for Covington. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder from Bowie, Md., spent most of his first four years at Maryland in linebacker-defensive end limbo: He was too small to take on offensive linemen all the time, a little too cumbersome to consistently drop into pass coverage.
But towards the end of last season, defensive coordinator Chris Cosh experimented with different formations and fronts that allowed Covington more freedom. Instead of lining up with a hand on the ground like a defensive end, he stood up more like a linebacker and could play in space.
In Maryland's bowl game against Oregon State, Covington tied career highs with nine tackles and two sacks.
"What gets tough for some teams and what's tough for our offense right now, all of the sudden he's down, he's up—what is he?" Friedgen said.
This spring, the changes in Covington's position are taking full effect as part of Cosh's plan to put more speed on the field. Since Maryland's defensive line is inexperienced for the most part, and the linebacker core has a wealth of talent and game experience, Cosh has adjusted the defensive formations.
Some have likened the new look to West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense, but Covington said it's more like a 3-4, with him being the fourth linebacker.
"My position is way different," Covington said. "I was about two seconds from starting to call myself a little defensive end. But now I'm stepped back a lot. I have a lot more responsibilities in coverage. I'm not going to be walked up on on the line of scrimmage as much."
Said Cosh, "Structurally so much it hasn't changed but how he's positioning himself sometimes. I think as time goes on he'll see the similarities to what he did before to what he's doing now, just from a different alignment."
Covington will drop back in coverage more and force offenses to make a tricky decision: "Now you got to decide, ‘Am I going to block him with a running back or am I going to block him with a tackle?'" Friedgen said.
Covington, though, will still have to fight off offensive linemen. At his size, that has always been difficult, especially against offensive tackles who regularly taken on 300-pound defensive linemen.
"I wish I could find that spot for him where you wouldn't have to worry about the offensive line anymore. I don't think it exists especially between the two lines here," Friedgen said. "I'm sure he'd rather have [running back] Rashad Henry block him than [left tackle] Scott Burley."
Oh well. Either way, Covington is confident that this change is for the better—he cracked a big smile when first asked about it.
"I've been playing basically the same defense for four years and to have it change up this much is exciting," he said.
Now if only Turner could adjust too.
Covington Welcomes LEO Changes
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