Behind Penn State and Miami, Maryland has very quietly become a legitimate Linebacker U (they also have earned the title of Punter U, but that's not quite so good). Ever since the great E.J. himself, Maryland has had a history of solid linebackers who would be great in college and/or the pros: Leon Joe, Shawne Merriman, D'Qwell Jackson, Erin Henderson, and Dave Philistin have all graced Byrd stadium the past decade.
This year was little different. Despite having a nonexistent defensive line in front of them and an average secondary behind them, the linebackers were still the strong point of the defense and a new name might be entering that pantheon mentioned earlier: Alex Wujciak.
131 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT
I've always held that Wujciak isn't quite as good as his stats indicate because he's able to rack up tackles thanks to a poor defensive line that allows running backs to get to the second level. While I still believe that he becomes vulnerable in space and can give up big plays against the pass, you'd be a fool not to recognize that he's the best defender Maryland has against the run and is one of the best run support linebackers in the country. Even though he hurt Maryland at times, he helped far more and was key in keeping them in most games they were able to stay in.
Thankfully, Wujciak will almost certainly return next year. His starting spot is secured and he'll be an award contender.
63 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
I saw a tweet from Hartsfield today (on his awesomely named CinquanteNeuf Twitter account) that told Shawne Merriman he'd be the best LB ever to come out of Maryland. As strange as it sounds, he's got a shot.
Hartsfield started from day one his redshirt freshman season, and was no question the starter every single week until injury. Although he showed some problems early on, he was one of the best players on Maryland's defense before too long and was absolutely instrumental in the Clemson win. Similar to Wujciak, he has a nose for the ball, but has above-average physical tools. Some of the issues - focus, finishing plays - will work themselves out, and when they do, Maryland will have a very good linebacker on their hands.
Like Wujciak, he'll be back next year to make for an exciting corps.
68 tackles, 9 TFL, 6 sacks
The most entertaining of the group, Adrian Moten is the edge pass rusher of the bunch. He wasn't as spectacular and consistent as I remember him being in his freshman and sophomore years, but, then again, this was his first year as a full starter. He was solid against the pass when in coverage and was easily Maryland's most effective rusher - it's a wonder he wasn't placed as DE in obvious passing situations more often.
Against the run, he was rather quiet. He's not a big guy and that did hurt, but his quickness made up for it. Like Wujciak, he had a hole in his game, but an outstanding stat - this time, 6 sacks on a team that had trouble getting pressure from the front four - outweighed it.
Moten will come back and join Wujciak and Hartsfield as a starter to complete the trifecta. The defensive second level will be extremely tough next year - if the line comes together, the defense could be very good.
5 starts, 43 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks
Pooler replaced Hartsfield when he went out with an arm injury for several weeks, and was pretty darn impressive doing it. I was never as comfortable with him back there as I was with Demetrius, but he might've been more productive in less time.
Returning from a leg injury that kept him out all of last season, Pooler was a question mark. He made his living rushing the passer and clogging the running lanes admirably - he was mighty impressive for being thrown in on short notice. Like the rest, he wasn't perfect - he was easily beaten on crossing routes when in zone and got called for two PIs, I believe - but he was unexpectedly good.
Here's a shocker: he'll return too. He should man the primary backup role at all three spots.
18 tackles, 1 TFL
At the outset of the season, most people believed that Drakeford's redshirt would have to be burned for special teams and backup purposes. While he was out there a decent amount on ST, the backup PT wasn't quite as plentiful. He saw about four plays a game, generously, and some (me, for instance) question the redshirt.
Actually, it stings because you realize Drakeford has the potential to be special. In his most memorable play in the final game of the year, he showcased his speed, instincts, and strength by leveling Montel Harris on a 3rd and short. Playing time will be difficult to come by next year, unfortunately - or, at least, I hope it will be - but Drakeford will see an increased role his junior season.
See above. Murray, like Drakeford, burnt his redshirt in the first game - I don't really understand why both of them did - and spent the entire season almost exclusively on special teams. Irresponsible policy aside, Murray rarely saw the field on defense, despite bringing in solid strength and speed. Like Drakeford, he'll be competing for a spot by his junior year.
See above, again, only this time less sensible. Another freshman burning, Donohue lost his shirt rather inexplicably in the middle of the year on special teams. I only remember one play on regular defense, and he was relatively quiet then, too.
Basically a Wujciak clone, Donohue is slower and bigger than you might like, but instinctive and tough. He'll wrack up tackles if he replaces Wujciak instead of Murray or Drakeford.
Much like the wide receiver spot across the line, all of Maryland's LBs return for another season, and all of them should be greatly improved. You can throw in redshirt freshmen Bradley Johnson and Marcus Whitfield, too. Needless to say, linebackers will be stocked well, and the talent runs deep.
The key will be the performance of the DL. If they can just reach average, running on these Terps will be a tough proposition. The 'backers are evenly distributed, too: a run stuffer in Wujciak, a more pass-oriented guy in Moten, and the coverage/balance man in Hartsfield. Can't ask for much more.
Penn State can take the name, but Maryland just may be Linebacker U, too.