2012 Mayland Preview - Defense
Maryland DE Joe Vellano
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Maryland Terrapin Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The offense has a new coordinator and a new direction. So, too, does the defense. Head coach Randy Edsall hired Brian Stewart to correct a unit that ranked last in the ACC in run defense, scoring defense and total D. Stewart, in turn, is reworking the Terrapins to operate out of a 3-4 alignment in order to get more of his best athletes on the field. Now, the coach will have a full plate in the summer, but his cupboard in College Park is hardly bare. The nucleus is promising, especially in the front seven. All-ACC DT Joe Vellano is a sparkplug-type player, and one of the nation's most underappreciated players. The senior commands double-teams, helping make those around him better. Fingers are crossed on campus that LB Kenny Tate can regain his old pre-injury form, when he was on the lip of the All-American cup. A healthy Tate plus Demetrius Hartsfield, Darin Drakeford and L.A Goree will give Maryland one of the sneaky-good linebacker corps in the ACC. The secondary has just a single starter to replace, CB Cameron Chism. Someone, such as sophomore Jeremiah Johnson, will need to rise up and join Dexter McDougle in the lineup at corner. The safety position, on the other hand, has three returning starters, veteran Eric Franklin and sophomores A.J. Hendy and Matt Robinson, who exploded out of the gate last September before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Joe Vellano
Tackles: Demetrius Hartsfield, 108
Sacks: Andre Monroe, 5
Interceptions: Dexter McDougle, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Jeremiah Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Matt Robinson
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Kenny Tate
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Vellano, 2) Tate, 3) Senior LB Demetrius Hartsfield
Strength of the defense: The D-line, The linebackers, getting pressure, overall depth, safeties, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, consistency, injuries, corners, third-down stops
As the Terps shift to a 3-4 alignment, the returning linemen are all in a position to be learning new roles and assignments this season. The undisputed star of the group is 6-1, 285-pound senior Joe Vellano, a relentless defender, with one of the best motors in America. He'll be lining up on the outside after starring on the interior for the past two seasons. He peaked in 2011, making an astounding 94 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries to earn All-ACC First Team and multiple All-America honors. Vellano plays with the old school toughness of a classic run stuffer, yet will also collapse the pocket using good speed and an insatiable will to make a play for his team.
There'll be a mad scramble to join Vellano at the other end spot. The staff can look in a number of different directions. Sophomore Keith Bowers is back after starting all but one game of his true freshman season. The rugged 6-1 and 260-pounder laid the ground floor of a promising career by making 36 tackles, six stops behind the line and 2.5 sacks. After missing the end of spring with heart palpitations, he's expected back in the summer.
Junior Isaiah Rossis upwardly mobile, but only if he can stay healthy. He lost significant time to a knee injury in both 2009 and 2011. However, when the 6-2, 270-pounder, with the solid base, played a full season in 2010, he wound up making 27 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Junior Justin Anderson is a versatile 6-5, 280-pounder who has spent time at both tackle and end during his career. While an injury kept him off the field in 2011, he started every game of the previous season at strongside end, chipping in 22 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and two sacks.
One of the former tackles moving outside is sophomore Andre Monroe. While only 6-0 and 265 pounds, he really turned a lot of heads as a rookie, starting four games, and notching 18 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and five sacks. When he and Vellano are playing together, opposing tackles will have an awful time trying to keep the pocket clean.
The anchor at the nose will be 6-5, 305-pound senior A.J. Francis, the veteran of 37 career games and 23 career starts. Although he struggled in 2011, making 31 tackles and two sacks as a four-game starter, he appears to be a good fit for the Terps at the nose. This is a critical season for Francis, who is hoping to use it to impress NFL scouts.
Watch Out For .... plenty of ends to get a chance to play with Vellano. It's unlikely that one Terrapin lineman will win the job outright, leaving everyone else to nibble on the scraps. Instead, it's far more conceivable that the coaching staff will lean on a deep rotation that mixes and matches talent with the situation.
Strength: Overall depth. Assuming everyone can stay healthy—a legitimate concern—Maryland is teeming with veterans and former starters, especially now that only three starters are required. Plus, the anticipated competition in the summer is bound to bring out the best in all of the Terrapin linemen.
Weakness: Stopping the run. Too often last year, the Terps allowed opposing backs to get to the second level without much obstruction. After ranking 111th nationally in run defense—and allowing 4.7 yards a carry—Maryland has to do a better job in 2012 of stopping the progress of runners before they can gain a head of steam.
Outlook: Vellano is the headliner of this show, but his supporting cast isn't too shabby either. The Terrapins are poised to be on the incline up front now that so many returning players are bucking for playing time. If Francis can make the most of his chance at the nose, and the former tackles excel at end, the line will be the strength of the D, if not the entire team.
Much like the D-line, the Terps feel as if their corps of linebackers is locked and loaded for action as well. The headline for the unit surrounds the return of senior Kenny Tate, who missed most of last year following knee surgery. If the 6-4, 220-pounder was going to be in College Park last winter, the expectation was that he'd be prepping for the NFL Combine and Draft. Instead, he was getting ready for one final season as a Terrapin. The All-ACC defender, who switched from safety to strongside linebacker prior to the start of 2011, played in just four games a year ago, opting to go under the knife in October to correct an ongoing problem. At the time, he had 35 tackles and two picks, but in his last full season, Tate made 100 stops, 8.5 tackles behind the line and 3.5 sacks. Now that he's been granted a medical redshirt year, he'll attempt to pick up where he left off as a junior, patrolling the field like a hard-hitting prison guard.
Just in case Tate is slow to recover, the Terps really like the potential of 6-0, 225-pound sophomore Alex Twine, the all-star's understudy. Twine started four games as a rookie at weakside, finishing with 44 tackles, 4.5 stops for minus yards and a sack. Not only will he cover a lot of ground, but he can deploy opponents' airbags upon impact. He has a great future in College Park.
Maryland will be in great shape at weakside as well, with the return of senior Darin Drakeford. Despite playing only eight games of an injury-shortened season, he still wound up with 68 tackles and three stops behind the line. He has the speed, range and sure-tackling in the open field to make plays from sideline to sideline for the Terps in the fall.
The leader on the inside will be 6-2, 240-pound veteran Demetrius Hartsfield. The three-year starter enters his senior season with a tailwind, having earned honorable mention All-ACC in 2011. He made a team-high 108 tackles and seven stops for loss in only nine games, flashing the explosiveness and closing speed that have attracted the attention of pro scouts. Hartsfield has momentum-changing tendencies, and the overall ability to become Maryland's next great player at the position.
Who lines up next to Hartsfield on the inside? It's one of the big questions that still needs to be answered this offseason. One option will be 6-2, 235-pound sophomore L.A Goree. Versatile and intelligent, he started games at weakside and in the middle as a rookie, collecting 60 tackles, six stops for loss and 3.5 sacks. A physically gifted defender, he can lock down this position by taking better angles and getting a firmer grasp on his role within the defense.
Ceding nothing to Goree is 6-3, 245-pound sophomore Cole Farrand. After playing mostly on special teams, and making three tackles, he added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and generally impressed the staff with his work ethic. While he lacks the experience of his competition, he's planning on making up ground between now and the opener.
Watch Out For .... Tate's knee and comfort level at strongside. He's banking on being 100%, as is the program. However, he wasn't completely at ease with the linebacker position when he was shut down last September. Fingers are crossed all over College Park that No. 6 can pick up where he left off at the end of the 2010 season.
Strength: Frontline talent. Now that everyone is seemingly healthy, Maryland can point to three All-ACC contenders, all of whom might have a shot of continuing their careers on Sundays. The Terps are home to top-flight talent, and just enough depth to allow the starters to rest without experiencing a precipitous fall-off in production.
Weakness: Durability. Tate is returning from knee surgery. Hartsfield sat out three games with an injury. Drakeford was only available in eight weeks. The only thing that'll keep Maryland from boasting one of the ACC's better corps of linebackers is if continues to get stung by the injury bug.
Outlook: If—and it's admittedly a big if—the Terrapins can remain healthy from wire-to-wire, they'll harbor one of the sneaky-good groups of linebackers in the conference in 2012. They're steeped in quality defenders, like Tate, Hartsfield and Drakeford, who not only cover a lot of ground, but can intimidate at the same time. In fact, the front seven, in general, should be outstanding and vastly underrated this season at Maryland.
The secondary must replace two quality graduates, corners Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, but otherwise feels very confident about the upcoming season. Bucking to take over as the program's top cornerback will be 5-11, 190-pound junior Dexter McDougle. He started all 12 games a year ago, making 44 tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups. After showing the staff that he can be a physical, big-play pass defender, he'll now need to prove that he can consistently perform at a higher level, and with fewer blown coverages.
All indications are that Maryland's other starting cornerback will be sophomore Jeremiah Johnson, who earned his first letter with five tackles in 2011. He has the desired speed and an ideal 6-0, 185-pound frame, but remains raw at this early stage of his career. If he fails to evolve, he'll get picked on often by opportunistic opposing quarterbacks.
The Terps are on far more stable footing at safety. At strong safety, the program is excited about the return of 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Matt Robinson, who looks as if he could be the second-coming of Kenny Tate, who is now at linebacker. Although he got off to a great start in 2011, few knew it because his season ended in September following shoulder surgery. As a first-time starter at strong safety, he led the Terps with 36 tackles through the first three games. The assertive thumper has been awarded a medical redshirt, meaning he'll have three years of eligibility remaining.
Maryland also has a good one behind Robinson, former strategic recruit A.J. Hendy. The rare true freshman to start a game in the secondary cut his teeth by making 30 stops and a touchdown in 2011. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he has good size to go along with excellent cover ability, especially for a safety.
Manning free safety for one final year will be 6-2, 215-pound senior Eric Franklin. It was the new coaching staff's confidence in Franklin and Robinson that initially allowed the Terps to move Tate from safety to linebacker before the start of the 2011 season. Neither Tate nor Robinson got beyond Oct. 1 without suffering a season-ending injury, though, leaving Franklin to pick up some slack against the run. The then-junior responded with 106 stops, including a team-best 64 solos. He fits the Maryland size requirements at the position, a physical headhunter who'll go out of his way to intimidate the opposition. The returns of Tate and Robinson will provide Franklin with the defensive support he needs to settle in this fall, and grow into a more complete defensive back.
Watch Out For .... the impact of cornerback Isaac Goins. The transfer from Contra Costa (Calif.) College was recruited to immediately help the cornerbacks. At 6-0 and 185 pounds, size won't be an issue, and he displayed the ball skills at previous levels to be the kind of influential defender that the Terps are craving at cornerback. Johnson has been here longer, but can he hold off the newcomer?
Strength: The safeties. In Robinson, Franklin and Hendy, Maryland houses a trio of thumpers determined to support the run defense, and dislodge the ball from the man toting it. When Robinson and Franklin, in particular, are roaming around the field, it's as if the Terps are employing two extra linebackers, both of whom can also hold up in pass defense.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. While the Terps conceivably will be better with a year of experience, they still have a long way to go in pass defense. The program finished near the bottom of the ACC in most statistical categories, ranking 93rd nationally in pass efficiency defense. After showing some potential in September, Maryland yielded 17 touchdown passes over the final seven games of 2011.
Outlook: While the raw talent is in place for Maryland to stem the tide of last year's late-season collapse, will it be enough in a league with a lot of gifted passers? The Terps are certainly more talented than in 2011, thanks to the return of Robinson, addition of Goins and general year of seasoning of the group. As a whole, though, they must do a better job of sticking to receivers, avoiding biting on fakes and preventing big plays over the top.
Back for one final year as the most valuable and versatile member of the special teams unit is senior Nick Ferrara, who handled placekicking, punting and kickoff duties for the Terrapins. It was not a memorable year for the veteran, who hit just 12-of-20 field goals, averaged only 39.5 yards on punts and was second best on the team in kickoff distance. Following offseason hip surgery, he's eager to put 2011 in the rear view mirror.
On field goals and kickoffs, Ferrara is being challenged by sophomore Michael Tart. The former walk-on showed off good leg strength last fall by averaging more than 66 yards on four kickoffs, and even had three chances to punt.
Ferrara's competition at punter is coming from redshirt freshman Nathan Renfro. Highly-touted coming out of Tennessee, he briefly had a shot to win the job in his debut before succumbing to the consistency and stability of Ferrara.
While Tony Logan needs to be replaced in the return game, sophomore Justus Pickett figures to be first in line if his role as the starting running back doesn't limit his special teams role. A year ago, he averaged just 18.9 yards as the main kick returner.
Watch Out For… Ferrara to have quite a bit more down time this fall. He was overused last season, something the staff has since recognized. He'll be relieved of one, if not more, of his duties in the hope that he'll be fresher as the season unfolds, and able to concentrate most of his energy to just one of his many disciplines.
Strength: Big legs. All of this year's specialists at Maryland are well-sized individuals, with the pop to really drive their legs into the ball. If it winds up being Ferrara at placekicker, Tart on kickoffs and Renfro at punter, the Terrapins should have few worries about their distance.
Weakness: Covering kicks. The Terps were simply brutal in kick coverage a year ago, ranking below all but one FBS program at 25.9 yards allowed per attempt. The requisite athletes are on hand, but now the staff must find a way to turn all of that speed and tenacity into downfield stops and consistency in the open field.
Outlook: Even without Logan, Maryland is banking on being tighter on special teams. It can't get much worse than it was a year ago. A healthy Ferrara will go a long way toward improving the situation in this area. He has the potential as long as he's able to keep 2011 in the past. The battle at punter bears a close watch, especially since the D will benefit from more support from either Renfro or Ferrara.
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