When Coach Bobby Ross delivered his state of the Terrapins address earlier this week, it was hardly a high level secret that his primary concern is defense.
Maryland is expected to show an exciting offense when it opens Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt. Anything beyond that, however, will depend on a defense that must replace eight of last year's starters, including the entire defensive line.
Gib Romaine, the defensive coordinator, says the program hasn't had to replace that many starters on defense in his 11 years on the coaching staff.
"We're untried and untested," said Pete Koch, a senior tackle who was a reserve last year and is defensive captain this year. "I'm very optimistic, but I'm also aware that there's a stigma attached to the defensive line. I've definitely felt the pressure. Gurnest Brown and Mike Corvino and Mark Duda aren't going to just appear out there again, so it's up to us."
Such concern over defense at Maryland is a rarity. Defense has always been the showpiece in College Park, while the offense was somewhat piecemeal.
"Maryland has always meant defense," said defensive back Lendell Jones. "We don't know much about the guys on defense this year. It's a switch from previous years , but also a challenge. We have to prove we can stop people."
"It's a total role reversal," Koch said. "Obvious talent is on offense, while ours is more subtle."
There is nothing subtle about left tackle Koch, who stands 6 feet 5, weighs 260 pounds, and, Ross says, "is the kind of player a coach loves to walk off a plane with."
Koch and Tyrone Furman, left guard and a reserve most of last year, are the only linemen who played much last year. "We have to get good performances and leadership from Koch and Furman," Ross has said. "It's very necessary."
After Koch and Furman, the linemen are almost totally inexperienced. Jimmy Joyce, a 6-3, 250-pound senior who will play right tackle, had four tackles last year. The starting right guard will be Tom Parker, a redshirt freshman who is expected to be a very good player one day, but will play in his first game Saturday.
"And the backups," Ross says with a little wince, "are all young people--freshmen (including redshirts) and sophomores. We're pleased with the first team. But the second team will be wild-eyed and tight; they were that way Thursday in the scrimmage and there were no people in the stands. Some were forgetting things and missing assignments, but we'll have to play them."
Ross played some underclassmen last year and wound up developing depth. He is hoping for the same result this year.
Joyce said, "We've been reading all the college football magazines; they say Maryland's weak point is the defensive line. It gets you anxious to prove it's just not true."
There is more experience in the other two layers of the Terrapins' defense. J.D. Gross and Brian Baker, who both played a lot last year, are the ends in the wide-tackle-six alignment which also has them functioning as linebackers when necessary.
The true linebacker spots will be occupied by Eric Wilson, the second leading tackler last season, and Bobby DePaul, who played primarily on passing downs.
The strength of the defense is the secondary, which is six players deep in people who have played a lot, and all of whom are of more than average talent. Jones, who led the team with seven interceptions last year, will start at the left corner. Clarence Baldwin will play the right side. And Joe Kraus, a transfer from Penn State, will be the safety.
Kraus may also play cornerback when Al Covington recovers fully from a broken foot he suffered in spring practice.
Bobby Gunderman, Gil Hoffman (who started some last year) and Vernon Carter make the secondary the only area with real depth on the entire team.