I'll admit it: I was wrong about the defensive line. Long holding at the beginning of the year, against all critics, that Maryland's defensive line would be markedly improved due to a better scheme and better natural talent, I assumed that the defensive line wouldn't be a weak point. I was very, very wrong.
As it so happened, the DL was beaten by nearly every team all year long. Few teams were stifled by them. Everyone could either run over them or keep them out of the backfield long enough to easily pass through them. They were plagued by uncertainty, inexperience, and lack of talent. The first two issues could still be present next year; hopefully the last won't be.
Jared Harrell, DE
28 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 12 starts
Yeah, those stats aren't awesome. Harrell was fairly average his senior year, which was a little bit disappointing. For a full-time starting senior DE, 1.5 sacks is pretty disappointing. Really, though, Harrell's physical tools were pretty average, and he had a few momentum-changing plays. He simply couldn't put together a solid series. It hurts me to say this, but Harrell might've been more part of the problem than the solution.
A.J. Francis, DT
12 games, 10 starts, 31 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack
Some people are born slightly above-average. Others have slightly above-averageness thrust upon them.
The latter was the case with A.J. Francis, who was mildly surprising in his debut freshman season at DT. He was replacing Dion Armstrong, and, despite having pretty high hopes, slightly exceeded what I though he could do. He started 10 games and was one of the better players on the line considering he was a freshman supposed to be a backup.
The future for Francis is bright. He had 31 tackles and 1.5 TFL while being surrounded by no other good linemen as a freshman. As the others improve, he will too. Considering that was his first year and he wasn't god-awful, I'm pretty happy.
Travis Ivey, DT
25 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
I'll actually miss Travis Ivey. He wasn't noticeably better than Francis statistically, but you could tell that everyone benefitted from the presence of an experienced, talented big man in the middle. He was as disruptive as most of us hoped, but when people can double without fear of repercussions, it makes it difficult to make an impact.
Deege Galt, DE
26 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks
Galt was one of the more polarizing players on the team this year. On the one hand, his lack of natural athleticism was a big minus. On the other, he led all linemen in sacks and was by far the most productive. Part of that has to do with the fact that he was next to Ivey, but part of it has to do with his pure, good old hustle.
Derek Drummond, DE
16 tackles, 1.5 TFL
I actually expected Drummond to earn a starting spot at some point in the season, but it never happened. I'm actually a fan of his pure athleticism and edge speed, but he was plagued by the same issues as Harrell: an inability to finish plays consistently. He tended to get overpowered at times, too. Luckily for Drummond, he has another year to play, and will probably start that year. If he can work on technique and Francis gives him some help next to him, he'll probably be able to pull out a Galt-esque season.
Zach Kerr, DT
At the beginning of the year, everyone assumed Maryland had to burn Kerr's redshirt. They did, in game one, but he got surprisingly little playing time throughout the year. I don't know whether it was because the coaches didn't feel he was good enough or what, but he was pretty invisible, both when he was on the field and because he wasn't on it enough.
On the bright side, he has a ton of potential and great size. There's going to be an open spot at DT next year, and he should take it. How he does could very well decide how well the DL fares next season.
Justin Anderson, DT
3 tackles, .5 TFL
I wasn't happy about the Anderson redshirt burning - after all, Kerr, another freshman, was directly in front of him - but you can't argue with his production compared to Kerr's. He's not as big, but is more athletic and more in the vein of incoming recruit Andre Monroe. He and Kerr will be competing for that single spot at DT next year, and Anderson could have the inside track.
Carl Russell, DT
8 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack
Russell got a surprising amount of PT, and made the most of it. His solid production this year - again, on the Ivey side of the line - will give him a head start for the DE spot next year. He went about his business quietly and effectively; I can't remember him making any big plays, but I can't remember him messing up much either, and he got what came his way.
Masengo Kabongo, DE
2 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
My favorite player on the DL for a number of reasons, I was disappointed by Kabongo's lack of playing time this year behind Russell. He has versatility - can play DE or DT - good size, decent speed, and an amazing name, but he only saw time in five games, even though he had okay production in those games. I would hope that he'd be able to compete for the anchor spot, which he's basically perfect for, but he is still pretty raw.
Okay, so I said a whole lot of nothing in this review. I'll admit it. But there's a reason behind it: there are very few average DLs. You're either awesome or terrible (or at least good or bad), and not usually in between. Why? Because it's all interdependent.
See, if there's two average linemen and two bad linemen, the OL can focus on the okay ones and bring down the entire line. If there's three decent linemen and one outstanding one, he can disrupt and make everyone else's job easier.
It builds upon each other. It's difficult to really pinpoint who was at fault - who's to say that Francis caused Harrell's troubles and not the other way around? Moreso than any other position, line is the most interdependent.
In a similar vein, it's also the easiest to change. Because everyone depends on each other, minor issues can result in big changes. Next year's team will be plagued with many of the same issues - that is, inexperience and uncertainty for the lineup - but the talent level will rise significantly. De'Onte Arnett could start from day one as a redshirt freshman, and David Mackall, if he ever ends up on campus, is an impact player from day one. There's a lot of talented depth across the board here - the key will be to find the right combination.
Make the line better, and the entire defense gets better. As is the case on offense, the team lives through the line, and Maryland's was bad this year. If it's better next year, expect a much better team.