Many of the estimated 2,000 fans at Maryland’s spring football game cheered in appreciation when linebacker Alex Twine unleashed a thunderous first-quarter hit on Tyler Cierski, separating the fullback from the ball.
Twine is just months removed from being thrust into the starting lineup for four games as a 17-year-old freshman during the defense’s injury-riddled 2011 season. What fans at Byrd Stadium saw Saturday afternoon is a player who has demonstrated a quick learning curve, something the entire defense hopes to mirror this fall.
“Twine has just really grown up a lot,” said nose tackle A.J. Francis. “He has caught on faster than almost any player I have seen. It’s a great sign for our defense.”
A defense that allowed more than 34 points per game last season showed encouraging signs during a spring game with a modified scoring system. In addition to touchdowns and field goals, points were awarded for sacks, turnovers and big plays. The defense (Red team) beat the offense (White), 67-53, in large part because of 13 sacks and attention-grabbing hits like Twine’s.
The defense rallied from a 20-point first-half deficit without its three best players. Second-team all-America lineman Joe Vellano and linebacker Kenny Tate sat with injuries, while linebacker Darin Drakeford missed the final couple of weeks of spring practice to focus on academics.
Maryland started five freshmen multiple times in 2011. The improvement of several of those players is a major reason for optimism as the defense converts to coordinator Brian Stewart’s aggressive 3-4 scheme. Coach Randy Edsall cited Twine, defensive back A.J. Hendy and linebacker Cole Farrand among those who have made the most progress heading into their sophomore seasons.
“They had not too much of a clue as to what they were doing” last season as freshmen, Edsall said. “You see all those young guys who played, you see them make that step this spring in terms of playing faster. Sometimes you have to suffer when you play young guys out of necessity, but it pays off, and that’s what is going to happen with those young men.”
Rising junior quarterback C.J. Brown, who will be Maryland’s only quarterback with experience this fall, completed 17 of 33 passes for 199 yards. He threw one interception to cornerback Dexter McDougle, who played well throughout spring practice.
The scrimmage included just two touchdowns and a field goal, a 48-yard kick by Michael Tart, who will compete withNick Ferrara, who is injured, for the starting job in August training camp.
The game’s first traditional score came on a one-yard touchdown run by running back Brandon Ross, who will compete with improved Justus Pickett for the starting job in the fall. And Ricky Schultz, a walk-on quarterback from Ellicott City, hooked up with receiver Nigel King, who did not play last season because of an eligibility issue, for a nine-yard touchdown pass.
Schultz concluded a brief Maryland career having played an important role. His presence this spring allowed the Terrapins to stage more complete practices with a second quarterback on the roster.
After graduating this spring, Schultz hopes to find a college football job as a graduate assistant. He called his chance to play for the Terrapins this spring “a dream come true.”
Brown said penalties derailed the offense in the second half. Cierski cited poor pass protection and delivered a friendly shot back at Twine, the player who leveled him early in the game.
“Anybody can hit me when I’m not looking,” Cierski joked.
Note: Players chose wide receiver Kevin Dorsey, Brown, Vellano and linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield to serve as team captains for the 2012 season.