With just one game remaining in an already disappointing, injury-ravaged season, the Maryland football team will visit North Carolina with its most potent edge blitzer sidelined and quite possibly a third captain missing the game, as well.
Linebacker Darin Drakeford, who has thrived in defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s 3-4 scheme by utilizing disguised rushes from the outside, is out against the Tar Heels with a head injury. Drakeford is tied for the team lead with six sacks and ranks second with 9.5 tackles for a loss.
Joe Vellano, Maryland’s leader in tackles for a loss and the defensive lineman who’s tied with Drakeford with six sacks, is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. Vellano, one of the Terps’ four captains, suffered the injury against Georgia Tech in early November and has been playing hurt ever since.
Vellano, who ranks eighth in school history with 32 career tackles for a loss, also ranks fourth in the ACC this season with 1.27 TFLs per game, while his six sacks are tied for fifth in the ACC.
“Ever since Georgia Tech, it’s been tough,” Vellano said after last Saturday’s loss to Florida State. “I got caught in the Georgia Tech game, got an ankle sprain. It’s one of those things, just tough. I’ve been battling with it and trying to fight in practice. Clemson I did pretty good, made a couple plays. Today I made a couple. But I left a couple out there.
“It’s part of the game. I wish I could have helped out more.”
If Vellano cannot play, senior wide receiver Kevin Dorsey would be Maryland’s only healthy captain left after C.J. Brown and Demetrius Hartsfield suffered season-ending ACL tears.
It’s one final, unbelievable blow in Maryland’s already-absurd injury situation, during which season-ending injuries have sidelined four quarterbacks, its leading rusher (Wes Brown), second-leading receiver (Marcus Leak) and leading tackler (Hartsfield).
And as if that weren’t enough, the Terps will hobble into Chapel Hill with just three healthy wide receivers who have caught a pass this season, after Levern Jacobs suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Jacobs, a freshman, returned kicks against Florida State last week while Stefon Diggs continued to progress from the injury that kept him off the Clemson trip.
But Diggs, who is still in line for ACC freshman of the year honors, played against the Seminoles and is listed as probable against North Carolina with an ankle injury. He, Dorsey and Nigel King figure to start for the Terps against the Tar Heels, with James Bowman and Tyrek Cheeseboro serving as backups. Neither Bowman nor Cheeseboro, both of whom are listed as probable this week, have caught a pass in 2012.
Defensive lineman A.J. Francis (shoulder), tight end Matt Furstenburg (shoulder), offensive lineman Justin Gilbert (knee), quarterback Shawn Petty (shoulder), tight end Ryan Schlothauer (knee), linebacker Kenneth Tate (knee) and linebacker Marcus Whitfield (shoulder) round out Maryland’s list of probables.