Outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and a group of Maryland defensive players took careful instruction from defensive coach late in Maryland’s preseason camp late Tuesday afternoon, pivoting around offensive linemen and violently slapping tackling dummies. Before long, the assistant lost his cool – and in an attempt to teach a new pass-rush move, posed this question to his players: “Who’s the best boxer in the world right now?”
A few mumbled an answer, which prompted the coach to scream and swing his arms, “Look like Mayweather coming up!”
Cudjoe-Virgil responded with a few more impressive reps, using his arms in upper-cut like fashion to maneuver around the linemen. This wasn’t a particularly enticing exercise – except for Cudjoe-Virgil, who is returning from a a torn pectoral muscle that kept him out the second half of last season and set him on an arduous path to return. About six months ago, a movement like this simply wasn’t an option.
But Cudjoe-Virgil is fully rehabilitated and has emerged as the favorite to win one of the outside linebacker jobs in Brian Stewart’s 3-4 scheme, where the Baltimore native is likely to replace graduated star Marcus Whitfield.
“Just like my senior season, just finally realizing that this is here, this is my last year that I could potentially be playing football for the rest of my life,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “That was just the motivation, just getting back out here.”
Cudjoe-Virgil was on track to have a memorable season last year. He registered 18.5 tackles, with 3.5 for loss and three sacks in his first six games before being injured against Virginia in October. The rehabilitation process was long – he started in a sling, watched some games in the booth even, then moved from stretching to lifting during the offseason. He wasn’t back to full health until the middle of July, he said.
He’ll be pushed by sophomore Yannick Ngakoue, a talented pass-rusher out of Friendship Collegiate who caught praise Tuesday with several impressive bull-rushes in one-on-one drills. Cudjoe-Virgil said Tuesday that the two have grown closer over the past year, and are trying to “feed off each other’s game.”
“We know that we can make each other better,” Cudjoe-Virgil. “Young Yannick, he’s a pass rusher. His motor, it kind of reminds me of myself.”