Maryland’s defense will have a different look with many of the same playmakers from last season. First-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is installing an aggressive 3-4 scheme. In all, 10 starters, 11 of Maryland’s top 13 tacklers and six of its top seven sack producers are back on defense. Three of the top seven returning tacklers in the ACC play for Maryland. And how about this stat: More than half of the team’s 26 sacks last season were posted by freshman.
It will be exciting to see what second-team all-American Joe Vellano — who will miss the rest of spring practice with a foot injury that isn’t expected to affect him this autumn — can do in Stewart’s defense. Defensive line coach Greg Gattuso called Vellano a “brilliant” football player who possesses an unrelenting motor. Vellano led the Football Bowl Subdivision in tackles by a defensive lineman last season.
“A lot of guys have the ability and a lot of guys have the brains, but not everybody has the fortitude to play every play like Joe Vellano does,” Gattuso said earlier this spring. “That is what makes him a great player.”
Linemen Keith Bowers and Andre Monroe earned freshmen accolades last season. I think both are poised to take the next step and be even greater contributors in the fall. One of the guys I’m watching closely is nose tackle A.J. Francis, who could have a big year in his final season with the Terrapins. And, of course, having Isaiah Ross and Quinton Jefferson in the mix in the fall should help significantly.
At the four linebacker slots, having Lorne Goree and Demetrius Hartsfield ideally at the two inside positions should be a strength. Hartsfield had to move around quite a bit last season, which may have hurt his consistency. Alex Twine and Darin Drakeford could be impact players (Drakeford will miss the rest of spring practice to get his academic house in order). It was remarkable to see what Twine did as such a young player last season. Kenny Tate possesses incredible potential and should excel once he returns from the knee injury that cut last season short.
Having safety Matt Robinson back should be huge for Maryland. The physical defensive back saw his season end prematurely because of shoulder surgery. Safety A.J. Hendy became one of just two true freshmen to start at safety for Maryland since 1993. And safety Eric Franklin started all 12 games and ranked sixth in the ACC in tackles per game with 8.8.
Maryland needs more consistent play from its cornerbacks. Dexter McDougle led the team with six pass breakups and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Jeremiah Johnson needs to emerge after playing mostly on special teams and as the team’s No. 4 cornerback last season. I’m also eager to see what Isaac Goins, the junior college transfer, can add to the defensive backfield.
What’s your biggest defensive concern heading into the fall? And what are you most encouraged about?