Maryland LB Darin Drakeford is thriving as a blitzer

October 11, 2012

Darin Drakeford is second on the Terrapins with 2.5 sacks. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Demetrius Hartsfield waited on the second level, biding his time, ready to pounce. He slowly inched up to the line, creeping toward those Wake Forest white jerseys, until the right guard briefly looked away. Maryland’s senior linebacker shot through the hole and wrapped up quarterback Tanner Price by the ankles on fourth down. The sack secured a 19-14 Terps victory and Hartsfield stomped off, Pain-Training his way to the sidelines.

But what of that right guard? What caused him to double-clutch and turn his head?

He was looking at Maryland’s two pass-rushers on the left side. A.J. Francis pushed through the middle, then spun off the edge. Behind him was a teammate who had drawn three – three! – blockers. That teammate was Darin Drakeford.

Drakeford, a senior linebacker opposite Kenneth Tate and Alex Twine on the outside in defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s new 3-4 scheme, has benefited from a cavalcade of blitz calls off the edge. He’s drawing more double-teams lately, which Stewart says has slowed his production, but it’s freed up first-level linemen like Francis or Darius Kilgo to face single blocks.

“He’s become an impact player,” Hartsfield said. “He has great pass-rushing skills, and those have developed over the year. Being in a full-time starting role just enables him to play a lot more aggressive. A lot of people don’t know that. As a team, we know he’s probably the best pass-rusher on the team.”

A Washington native, Drakeford is second on the team with 2.5 sacks, a half-sack behind Hartsfield, and fifth in both total tackles and tackles for a loss. Last season, Drakeford played in just eight games because of injury but still finished fourth on the team in tackles.

Against the Demon Deacons, the Terps credited Drakeford with six quarterback hurries, one sack and two tackles.

“You get into the quarterback’s mind,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “He got some hits on him, made him throw the ball a little bit quicker than he wanted to. Those six hurries make a big difference from your defensive backs. That’s what we expect from Drake.”

During the week, Hartsfield eschews practice trash-talking for a more quiet persona, then on Saturday becomes “the wildest one.” Drakeford, on the other hand, is a jokester throughout the week. During practice, Hartsfield will stand in the defensive huddle, calling out assignments, and suddenly feel a tug at his chinstrap. It’s Drakeford, trying to derail Hartsfield’s concentration.

“Or I’ll be talking, he’ll say, ‘Shut up Meat, I don’t want to hear what you’re saying,’ ” Hartsfield said. “I always laugh, because I know he’s joking.

“He’s one of those guys who you don’t want to prank, because he’ll get you back. He’ll get you back two times worse.

“But he turns it on, too. When he makes plays, he makes it known that he makes big plays.” 

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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