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2009 Maryland Preview - Defense
Maryland LB Alex Wujciak
Maryland LB Alex Wujciak
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Maryland Terrapin Defense

Maryland Terrapins

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Maryland Preview | 2009 Maryland Offense
- 2009 Maryland Defense | 2009 Maryland Depth Chart
- 2008 Maryland Preview | 2007 Maryland Preview | 2006 Maryland Preview 

What you need to know: Ralph Friedgen had an interesting response to the departure of coordinator Chris Cosh, hiring successful head coach Don Brown away UMass. He arrives determined to attack at all times, fostering a culture of blitzing and man-press coverages. It could be a good marriage at a school, which always seems to attract high-quality athletes. The Terps have spent the offseason trying to retool a defense that’s bringing back just four full-time starters. The leading man will again be junior inside linebacker Alex Wujciak, who had a team-high 133 tackles to earn second team All-ACC honors. Better tackling and tighter coverage in the red zone are two key priorities that must be addressed before the opening day trip to Cal.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Alex Wujciak, 133
Sacks; Jared Harrell, 2
Interceptions: Jamari McCollough, 4

Star of the defense: Junior LB Alex Wujciak
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Nolan Carroll
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NT Dion Armstrong
Best pro prospect: Wujciak
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wujciak, 2) Senior DT Travis Ivey, 3) Senior CB Anthony Wiseman
Strength of the defense: Team speed, first-team linebackers, depth in the secondary
Weakness of the defense: Edge pressure, inconsistency in run and pass defense, front seven depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: If the rebuilt offensive line once to feel better about itself, it only has to look to the other side of the ball. The D-line is in transition as well after losing six lettermen and three starters to graduation. At least for now, the front wall will be erected around 6-4, 325-pound senior Travis Ivey, easily the most experienced member of the line. A two-time letterman and four-game starter a year ago, he had 26 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack. A potential two-gap run-stuffer, players his size often attract interest from the NFL.

As long as academic issues don’t get in the way, 6-1, 303-pound sophomore Dion Armstrong will be next to Ivey at nose tackle. He worked his way into the starting lineup toward the end of his first season, playing in all 13 games and making 22 stops. While not especially big, he uses his leverage as an advantage, and possesses the speed and quickness of some ends.

At 6-5 and 265 pounds, senior Jared Harrell looks the part to handle the anchor, or strongside end, but has yet to put together a complete season. That could change, however, thanks to that size and impressive agility for a big man. He started to scratch the surface of his potential as a junior, making 17 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks.

The Terps are hoping that 6-4, 250-pound sophomore Derek Drummond can use all of his speed and athleticism to be the team’s most disruptive pass rusher. While he played in just four games last fall, he shows the suddenness off the edge to maintain the top billing he carried into the opening of spring practice.

Projected Top Reserves: Going toe-to-toe with Drummond at defensive end is 6-1, 275-pound redshirt freshman Masengo Kabongo, who earned some snaps with the first team in the spring. A native of the Congo, who speaks four languages, he turned heads in April with his get-off and closing speed.

While not ready to win a job at the nose quite yet, it’s only a matter of time before 6-5, 310-pound redshirt freshman A.J. Francis is a key part of the regular rotation. A top recruit from a year ago, he has the size and strength to stand up blockers and shut down running lanes.   

Watch Out For ... it to be a long year for this unit. Maryland was No. 9 in ACC run defense a year ago and No. 8 in sacks. After losing so many players to graduation and relying so heavily on underclassmen, why should anyone anticipate improved results?
Strength: The middle of the line. Ivey and Armstrong should combine to give the Terps a nice and formidable presence on the interior of the line. Both players were logging starts by the end of the year, and should hit the ground running once the season kicks off.
Weakness:
Proven depth. Okay, so maybe the starting four will exceed expectations, but what can realistically be counted on form the second and third units? As it stands today, there isn’t a single reserve that’s lettered with the program. That’s a harrowing thought, especially if the injury bug hits or Armstrong has any lingering issues with the books.
Outlook: Even in a best-case scenario, the Terrapins are going to face growing pains along the defensive line. There are simply too many issues and too many unproven players to expect an about-face from last seasons result. While Ivey has an all-league ceiling, he’ll be much more effective if a couple of teammates enjoy much-needed breakout years.
Rating: 6

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Two starters may be gone, but the lone returner is a good one. The career of 6-3, 255-pound Alex Wujciak was shot out of a cannon in 2008. A year after missing the entire season to a knee injury, he had a team-high 133 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss, en route to the All-ACC second team. A high-motor, high-intensity performer, he has the size, range, and instincts to be one of the nation’s premier inside linebackers.

After Wujciak, the most experienced linebacker will be 6-2, 230-pound junior Adrian Moten, a two-time letterwinner and the choice at strongside. Following a sensational rookie year, he battled a wrist injury and took on more of a secondary role in 2008, starting just one game and making 24 tackles. He has tremendous range and pass-rushing skills, making him a candidate to be used on blitzes.

The freshest face among the linebackers will be 6-2, 230-pound redshirt freshman Demetrius Hartsfield, the frontrunner to start the season at weakside. An explosive defender, with a quick first step, he’s the prototypical Terrapin outside linebacker, playing with outstanding intensity and athleticism. At his best going north and south, he, too, will be unleashed on the blitz.  

Projected Top Reserves: While Wujciak recovered from an injury in the spring, 6-3, 245-pound junior Drew Gloster took most of the first team snaps at middle linebacker. A backup tight end and H-back in 2007, he was ineligible last season and used the spring to get more comfortable as a defensive player.

The coaching staff is very excited about the future of 6-0, 225-pound true freshman Darin Drakeford, who has already taken part in his first spring camp. He showed the read-and-react skills and sideline-to-sideline speed that attracted the Terrapins to him and will help him avoid a redshirt year.

Watch Out For ... frequent blitzing. New defensive coordinator Dan Brown wants to bring the pressure, and inherits a set of linebackers that can get into the backfield in a hurry. Moten and Hartsfield, in particular, will be used liberally to augment a suspect pass rush.   
Strength
: Range. Ever since Ralph Friedgen came on board, the Terrapins have had a habit of being a magnet for the kind of linebackers, who can make plays all over the field. With Wujciak, Moten, and Hartsfield populating the lineup, this year’s edition should be no different.
Weakness: Proven depth. After Wujciak and Moten, Maryland will hold its breath and hope that the young kids don’t play to their age. Hartsfield has loads of potential, but he’s just a second-year freshman, and the second and third units are loaded with novices at this level.
Outlook: Regardless of the hurdles in front of them, the Terps have always had a knack for piecing together a productive corps of linebackers. With Wujciak carrying the banner and Moten about to recapture his rookie form, Maryland will be able to overcome the question marks that exist beyond those two stalwarts.
Rating
: 7

Secondary

Projected Starters: Although two of last year’s starters are gone, Maryland is well-stocked with returning lettermen and players with starting experience. Now, they just have to play much better in pass defense. Senior CB Anthony Wiseman made the most of his first full-time opportunity, starting every game and making 49 tackles and a team-high 10 pass breakups. While the 5-10, 185-pounder has some of the best wheels on the team, he still needs to sharpen his cover skills.

Joining Wiseman at corner will be senior Nolan Carroll, who’s about to benefit from the graduation of Kevin Barnes. At 6-1 and 202 pounds, he brings the size, speed, and physicality to the position that’s needed to press receivers at the line of scrimmage. A good open field tackler, he started four games a year ago and made 37 tackles and eight pass breakups.

The veteran among the safeties is 6-3, 214-pound senior Terrell Skinner, a former wide receiver who can stick like a linebacker. His size and wingspan are assets in pass defense, allowing him to blanket bigger tight ends and climb the tree to bat balls away. He’s made a nice transition since switching sides of the ball, starting 11 games and making 63 stops as a junior.  

Senior Jamari McCollough is one of the unit’s more versatile players, showing the ability to play some corner and safety. He’ll fill the void at strong safety this fall after starting a pair of games in 2008, and collecting 37 tackles and a team-high four picks. While a little undersized at 5-11 and 200 pounds, he compensates with his speed and intensity.

Projected Top Reserves: After getting his feet wet in his first year since transferring from USC, 6-1, 200-pound junior Antwine Perez is looking to push Skinner before replacing him in 2010. Both big and fast, he began laying a foundation in 2008 by playing in all 13 games, starting a pair, and getting in on two dozen tackles.

At 6-4 and 225 pounds, sophomore Kenny Tate passes the eye test without exception. Yet another import from wide receiver, he combines that exceptional size with exceptional quickness, a blend that could make him a star by next fall. In his debut on defense, he had 15 tackles in 13 games, while making his presence felt on special teams.

At cornerback, 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Cameron Chism has had the type of offseason that could position him to be the first man off the bench. One of just four true freshmen to play in 2008, he had eight tackles in nine games to earn a letter after Barnes was injured. He has the raw speed and good size to develop into a pivotal player in the rotation.

Watch Out For ... the corners to play plenty of man-press coverage. In laymen’s terms, that simply means that the defensive backs will be asked to attack at all times, jamming receivers in order to give linemen an extra second to get penetration. The days of sitting back in the secondary are over at Maryland.
Strength
:
Experience. All four of the projected starters are seniors, with at least a couple of letters, a real luxury in the last line of defense. Plus, there are a handful of upperclassmen dotting the second and third teams, which allows the kids, like Tate and Chism, to develop at a manageable pace.
Weakness: Red zone defense. The Maryland pass efficiency defense was so poor because it had twice as many touchdown passes yielded as interceptions. The Terps were burned 20 times, which tied for last in the ACC, including a half-dozen in the final two games.
Outlook: Steady, but not spectacular. While all of those veterans in the two-deep are a good thing, Maryland remains susceptible against the better passing attacks. If the pass rush can’t apply more pressure, shutting down opponents, like Cal and NC State, will be a tall order.
Rating
: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: There’s stability on special teams until the subject shifts to placekicker. The Terps are auditioning three unknowns to replace the talented, yet wildly inconsistent, Obi Egekeze. Sophomore Nick Wallace, a transfer from Division II Indiana (Pa.) University, began the spring with a slight edge, but have squandered it due to a lack of consistency. Sophomore Mike Barbour showed a little more accuracy in practice, which was not missed by the coaching staff. The pair, along with senior David May, will tee it up again in August in a competition that could last throughout the summer.

There’s no such uncertainty at punter, where junior Travis Baltz is set to build on last year’s All-ACC first team debut. He averaged 41.1 yards and placed 24 punts inside the 20-yard line, helping Maryland to a No. 21 national ranking in net punting.

Sophomore Torrey Smith set an ACC record for kick return yards for a freshman, averaging almost 26 yards, which was good for No. 3 in the league. He has game-breaker potential, as does sophomore Tony Logan, the front-runner to try and spark the punt team.

Watch Out For ... how the placekicker competition plays out. There’s a lot of hand-wringing going regarding this situation, especially since the Terps have a habit of playing in a ton of close games. They need someone to secure this job and never look back.
Strength:
Punt coverage. The Terps were air-tight in this area a year ago, largely because of the hang time and directional kicks of Baltz. Maryland finished No. 6 in the country, yielding a measly 83 yards all year on 20 returns.
Weakness: Uncertainty at placekicker. It’s the 400-pound gorilla in the room for special teams coach Charles Bankins. It wouldn’t be so bad that none of the competitors have ever attempted a kick at this level, but not one was originally offered a scholarship by Maryland either.
Outlook
: Because of the presence of Baltz, Smith, and the coverage teams, Maryland will contend to be the most complete special teams unit in the ACC. Achieving that, however, is going to require one of the three contending kickers to perform with more consistency than Egekeze did in 2008.
Rating
: 8