2011 Maryland Preview – Defense
Maryland DT Joe Vellano
Maryland DT Joe Vellano
Posted Jun 2, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Maryland Terrapin Defense

Maryland Terrapins

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The Terrapin D turned the corner in 2010, one of the secrets of the team's success. It's now up to new coordinator Todd Bradford to parlay last season into a trend. The coach wants to be aggressive, dictating the tempo of the game, yet playing with sound fundamentals. He'll inherit a solid corps that includes seven returning starters and 20 lettermen. The big news in the offseason was the shift of all-star S Kenny Tate to linebacker, where he'll be even closer to the action. His move creates a hole in the secondary that's going to be filled by a pair of big-hitting up-and-comers, junior Eric Franklin and sophomore Matt Robinson. Up front, Maryland will get pressure on the inside from feisty Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, but someone has to get to the quarterback from around the edge. Enter DE Isaiah Ross, who'll need to deliver for the good of the entire D.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Kenny Tate, 100
Sacks: Joe Vellano, 5
Interceptions: Eric franklin, Kenny Tate, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Kenny Tate
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Isaiah Ross
Unsung star on the rise: Junior S Eric Franklin
Best pro prospect: Tate
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Tate, 2) Junior DT Joe Vellano, 3) Senior CB Cameron Chism
Strength of the defense: Defensive tackles, linebackers, takeaways, run defense, red zone defense
Weakness of the defense: Edge pressure, overall depth, young safeties

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Although a pecking order needs to be hashed out during the summer, the Terps are confident about a line welcoming back seven letterwinners and three starters. As a whole, the no-name group did a solid job in 2010, spurring on a defense that ranked 21st nationally versus the run. More pressure, however, will be sought after a sporadic performance in that area last fall.

For the Terrapins up front, it all begins with 6-2, 285-pound junior Joe Vellano , one of the surprise defensive performers of 2010. Needing to fight just to crack the starting lineup last August, he wound up on the All-ACC second team, racking up 63 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, and five sacks. Rugged, with the quickness of an end, he's a handful for opposing linemen on every single down. Junior Justin Anderson is making the move from strongside end, where he started all 13 games, to the tackle spot behind Vellano. Well-sized for the interior at 6-5 and 275 pounds, he had problems rushing the passer, making 22 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, and only two sacks.

His tag-team partner on the inside is likely to be 6-4, 295-pound junior A.J. Francis , though he's being pushed hard by 6-2, 295-pound senior Maurice Hampton . Francis has the clear edge in experience, starting 19 games over the last two seasons and making 44 tackles, seven stops for loss, and 2.5 sacks. A top recruit from the 2008 class, he has a high ceiling, provided he doesn't get bumped on the depth chart. Hampton has had a very quiet career, but the kind of offseason that's grabbed the attention of the new staff. Playing with a strong base, he can be an immovable object in run defense.

Leading the way at defensive end will be 6-1, 255-pound junior Isaiah Ross, who showed flashes as a reserve last fall. Coming off the bench, he had 27 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He plays with good leverage and just enough quickness to be a nuisance in the backfield. At Rock, a hybrid of outside linebacker and weakside end, there's a battle brewing between sophomores David Mackall and Bradley Johnson . At 6-3 and 240 pounds, Mackall has better size and a great motor, making 18 tackles, three sacks, and a pick in his debut. The 6-1, 220-pound Johnson is more of a speed rusher, starting the bowl game and making 14 stops in 2010.

Watch Out For .... the results of the battle at tackle. Francis looked like a lock to start for a third straight year until Hampton decided to turn it up a notch in his final spring. It'd still qualify as an upset, but even if he challenges the incumbent, the entire defensive line is going to benefit.
Strength: The tackles. With Vellano commanding double-teams and Francis and Hampton going toe-to-toe, the Terps are going to have a solid rotation on the interior and an effective pass rush. This group was an underrated reason why Maryland did so well against the run in 2010, yielding just 3.4 yards a carry.
Weakness: Edge pressure. Where's the spark at defensive end? Last season, Maryland got very little help from the outside guys, relying too often on the tackles and the linebackers to generate heat. With new starters at both spots, the lack of production is liable to become a trend.
Outlook: Improvements have been made from a year ago, but not enough to consider the Maryland D-line among the best in the ACC. The tackles are going to be extremely feisty and aggressive, but the pass defense is going to pay the price if the new ends aren't up to the challenge.
Rating: 6.5


State of the Unit: With two-thirds of a drastically underrated linebacker corps gone, Maryland is in a position to rebuild around its lone returning starter. While it's impossible to replace tackling machines Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten, the Terps have always developed this position real well and plan to lean on one very important import from the secondary.

The big news at the second level is the shift from the defensive backfield of 6-4, 220-pound senior Kenny Tate, a first team All-ACC performer a year ago. He already looks and plays like a linebacker, so he was a natural fit at Star, a linebacker-safety hybrid. A punishing hitter and all-around fluid athlete, he thought long and hard about entering the NFL Draft at the end of last season. Testament to his versatility and range, he piled up 100 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, 3.5 sacks, and three interceptions.

Moving inside to replace Wujciak in the middle is 6-2, 235-pound junior Demetrius Hartsfield , who started 20 games at weakside over the last two seasons. An explosive playmaker, with outstanding sideline-to-sideline speed, he delivered a career-high 88 tackles and 6.5 stops for loss a year ago. His objective this offseason is to adjust to the nuances of a new position and improve at reading opposing offenses.

Rounding out the starting linebackers will be 6-0, 240-pound junior Darin Drakeford , who's expected to slide into Hartsfield's old weakside spot. As the first man off the bench in 2010, he chipped in 36 tackles and 5.5 tackles behind the line. He plays the game fast, with intensity, and with the right pad level.

Watch Out For .... Tate to adjust to his new responsibilities. More than just a sensational all-around athlete, the senior has a great feel for his place on the field regardless of what position he plays. He'll have the spring and summer to further digest the Star position, likely boosting his draft grade for 2012.
Strength: Closing speed. The staff wants this group to be very fast, attacking from all angles and dropping back smoothly into coverage. All three of the projected starters close fast and will deploy the other guy's airbags, covering huge chunks of territory in a minimum of time.
Weakness: Depth. Even with the addition of Tate from the secondary, the Terps are painfully thin on the second and third teams. Exacerbated by the departure of Ben Pooler in March, Maryland has just one returning letterwinner on the B team, 6-0, 230-pound junior Ryan Donohue, who has just a dozen career tackles.
Outlook: All things considered, Maryland has done a solid job of regrouping in the aftermath of two huge losses to graduation. By moving Tate from the defensive backfield and promoting Drakeford to the first team, the Terps have pieced together a playmaking trio of starting linebackers. It's after those three that the trouble begins, with a second unit that has absolutely no experience.
Rating: 7.5


State of the Unit: While the cornerbacks are set in College Park, the program still needs plenty of help at safety. The combination of Antwine Perez's graduation and Kenny Tate's switch to linebacker means that the defensive backfield will be breaking in a pair of new starters. The goal will be to maintain last season's level of play, when the pass defense did bend, but didn't break, and compensated with a ton of takeaways.

Back for a third and final year as the team's top cover corner is 5-10, 190-pound senior Cameron Chism. Improving with each passing season, he has good ball skills and the fluid hips to stick to the other team's best receiver. Also an effective open field tackler, he made 70 stops, four tackles for loss, and eight pass breakups for a second straight season. The fact that he had no picks was partly attributable to the fact that opposing quarterbacks avoided him.

At the other corner spot, 5-11, 190-pound senior Trenton Hughes returns for his second year as the starter. In the lineup for all 13 games a year ago, he had 39 tackles, a pick, and a team-high nine pass breakups. A terrific all-around athlete, he has to start turning a few more of those tips into picks, especially with more throws going in his direction. His successor will be 5-10, 200-pound sophomore Dexter McDougle, who's played well since arriving on campus. A physical defender, who needs a little more seasoning in coverage, he had 22 tackles off the bench and on special teams.

Making it possible to relocate Tate is 6-2, 205-pound junior Eric Franklin, a young defender the staff has been raving about. A physical open field tackler, he'll also hold up in coverage, making 23 tackles and intercepting three passes as a two-game starter in 2010. He's been itching for this opportunity, like a caged animal, from the moment he arrived. The frontrunner to join Franklin is 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Matt Robinson , who started one game as a rookie and made 29 tackles. Looking like the second-coming of Tate, he has the size-speed combo to begin an exciting career as a Terrapin. Providing veteran backup for Robinson will be 6-0, 195-pound senior Austin Walker, who has earned three letters as a career role player, making 16 stops and a couple of sacks last year.

Watch Out For .... the safeties ending up as one of the big surprises of 2011. Sure, they're still raw, but Franklin and Robinson have high ceilings, young athletes who can really deliver the payload. By this time next year, either or both could be on a bunch of preseason All-ACC teams.
Strength: Takeaways. The Maryland defensive backs are ultra-aggressive, attacking the ball and holding on to it when they jump routes. Last year's squad picked off 19 passes, ranking third in the ACC and No. 11 in the country. If you Hughes can be more of a contributor, it's possible those numbers will improve this fall.
Weakness: Youth at safety. Yeah, Franklin and Robinson are going to be good ones in short time, but that doesn't mean there won't be hurdles along the way. This is the first stop in the starting lineup for both players, and some decline from Tate and Perez will be unavoidable.
Outlook: The safeties may be young, but the cornerbacks are a year older and wiser. Put the two together, and Maryland has a shot to be every bit as good as it was in 2011. The key, of course, will be the play of Franklin and Robinson, who'll need to realize their potential quickly and help solidify their spots in the defensive backfield.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The usually solid Maryland special teams unit is about to undergo a makeover this fall. Gone from a year ago are Travis Baltz, who punted and kicked, and top kick returner Torrey Smith. Auditions for replacements began in the spring and will continue in August.

After a failed attempt to unseat Baltz last fall, PK Nick Ferrara has a much clearer path to the top of the depth in 2011. A strong-legged junior, he's done a little of everything for the Terps, kicking off, serving as an emergency punter, and hitting 18-of-25 field goal attempts in 2009. However, he was injured last preseason and was never able to recover

Redshirt freshman Michael Tart is first in line to handle Baltz's punting duties this fall. A former walk-on from Charlotte, N.C., he can also kick, providing much-needed insurance for Ferrara.

Smith may be gone from the return game, but senior Tony Logan is back and ready to make a run at All-American honors. A dynamic playmaker, who can make people miss, he earned All-ACC first team honors, ranking third in the nation at 18.1 yards and taking a pair back for six. Not until the summer will the coaching staff decide who fields kickoffs and supplants Smith this season.

Watch Out For… Tart's competition to arrive in August. Maryland knew it had to land a punter in this latest recruiting class, signing Nathan Renfro in February to join the mix. Lightly-recruited, he'll have a unique chance to play immediately.
Strength: Logan. Like having another offensive weapon in the arsenal, the senior is capable of going the distance whenever he gets a crease or a hint of daylight. He possesses track speed and keen vision, a deadly combination for a punt returner.
Weakness: Punter. Unlike at placekicker, where Ferrara does have experience, the Terrapins will be going with a brand new punter in 2011. Neither Tart nor Renfro was particularly coveted coming out of high school and will be a drain on the defense if the starter can't punt with consistency.
Outlook: Logan being the lone exception, Maryland will be saddled with special teams questions this season. There's uncertainty in the kicking game, leaks in coverage, and the need for a new kick returner. It all adds up to a rare inconsistent year for the Terrapin unit.
Rating: 6.5

- 2011 Maryland Preview | 2011 Maryland Offense
- 2011 Maryland Defense | 2011 Maryland Depth Chart
- Maryland Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006