Terps linebackers Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil and Marcus Whitfield form one-two punch

September 7, 2013

Marcus Whitfield earned a game ball for his defensive performance vs. Florida International, which included 1.5 sacks. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

The most heated position battle on Maryland‘s defense might not be a competition at all, but rather an established two-man order of pain at linebacker. First, opposing offensive linemen must handle Marcus Whitfield, a sentient stone pillar charging off the edge. If he gets winded, in comes Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil, less a drop-off than a sideways shuffle in the eyes of the Terrapins.

“We have two different styles of pass-rushing,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “When a guy comes in fresh, you have to forget what happened with the previous guy. You have to focus on this guy right now. That’s hard on offensive lineman, when they’re blocking different guys with different pass-rushing techniques.”

Cudjoe-Virgil, who transferred to Maryland from Division II Seton Hill before last season and spent the year on the scout team, became the defense’s biggest surprise during spring football and has continued that upward trajectory straight into the front seven’s rotation. Against Florida International, his first Division I game, Cudjoe-Virgil was the only non-starter with at least four tackles. He finished with seven, including a half-sack.

“I thought he did a good job,” defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. “He’s supposed to have butterflies. Shoot, I have butterflies every game. That being the case, I thought he did a very good job. He came off the ball, he attacked his man on his way to the quarterback. That’s all we can ask. Sometimes when you do your job, it goes unnoticed to a lot of people, but he did a great job and it did go unnoticed to our staff.

“I think that’s one of the best position battles there is. When you can put somebody in who’s going to be as productive as the starter, that’s where you want to be as far as all across the board. As a defensive staff, we’re excited to see that battle keep going down the road.”

Given Whitfield’s production – he earned the defensive game ball and recorded a team-high 1.5 sacks – Cudjoe-Virgil should continue to earn playing time off the bench. But he knows there’s always a spot for him within Stewart’s defense, especially against pass-happy teams like Old Dominion that leave the backfield vulnerable to blitzes.

“I’ve accepted my role,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “Just as long as we win football games, that’s what’s good with me.”

>> Whenever Maryland faces a spread offense, one linebacker is typically ousted from the rotation, replaced by more agile defensive backs in coverage.

“I usually get taken off the field,” Cole Farrand said. “It’s not very fun.”

An inside linebacker, Farrand says he sighs whenever offenses line up with five receivers and a naked backfield. That means he has to spy a running back.

“Definitely being wary of the pass will be a big thing in this game,” he said. “They also throw some runs in there to keep you honest. But it’s definitely going to be a lot of coverage mentality going into this game.”

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