In the coming days, we'll preview Maryland's football chances position-by-position, ala CFN. Only a lot more accurate, and in reverse order (ie, secondary to quarterback). Quite simply, because there's nothing else to talk about.
Maryland might not have the name or pedigree that Penn State or USC has when it comes to producing linebackers, but star linebackers have been one of the few constants throughout Ralph Friedgen's tenure at Maryland.
He inherited E.J. Henderson, Leon Joe, and Leroy Ambush. Joe and Ambush were two of the more underrated linebackers in the country when they were at Maryland, and Henderson won the ACC Player of the Year Award, Butkus Award, and Bednarik Award when he was in College Park.
Following that trio was D'Qwell Jackson, a somewhat unheralded linebacker Friedgen snagged from Florida that would go on to be named All-ACC three times and win the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award. He went on to play for the Cleveland Browns, and led the NFL in tackles two years ago.
Jackson gave way to Erin Henderson, the younger brother of E.J., and he was nearly as good as his bigger brother and was arguably the best player on the team in his junior and senior years.
Linebackers coach Al Seamonson, who has been at Maryland since Fridge took over as head man, is a big reason for this. He was one of the candidates when Maryland was looking for a defensive coordinator, but was ultimately passed over for Don Brown. Luckily, Seamo stayed on board, and his linebacker development skills are still on board. Maybe that's why this group is so good.
The starters. This year's version of the Terps is no less lacking in star 'backers, and the two best defensive players on the Terps are probably members of the corps. The most notable is senior middle linebacker Alex Wujciak, a long-haired, rugged New Jerseyan. He's not fast and fought injury last year, but always has been and probably always will be a tackle machine. He's better against the run than anyone else on Maryland, and has the potential to change the way opponents see the defense.
Last year, Wujciak wracekd up 122 tackles, which was - believe it or not - 11 less than he had his sophomore season. If he doesn't contend for the nation's lead in tackles, I'll be surprised. Quite simply, he has a nose for the ball, and is by far steadier than anyone else on Maryland's team.
Next to him at the SAM linebacker spot is Adrian Moten, also a senior. Moten is recognized for being the most dangerous defensive player the past few years for Maryland, and has been a constant threat to backfields since his freshman year. He's extremely dangerous when blitzing, mostly due to his athleticism, and that was his main role last season.
With more weapons on the team this year (check below), his edge blitzing presence may not be needed. But his experience and stats can't be overlooked; last year, he led Maryland with 6 sacks, which is more impressive than it sounds. This team struggled to get pressure when they brought as many as six or seven guys; Moten was one of the few that could consistently get to the QB.
Demetrius Hartsfield is the youngest starter in the group, but was plenty impressive his freshman year and has a very high ceiling. Hartsfield - nicknamed Cinquante Neuf, which is French for 59, his number last season - was certainly the surprise of the team last season, showcasing a nose for the ball and superior physical tools. At times he struggled to finish plays, but that's to be expected with a redshirt freshman. It's tough to forget his memorable performance against Clemson, which was the highlight of the year. He may no longer be Cinquante Neuf (just Neuf, now) but I'm still looking forward to the rest of his time at Maryland.
The backups. Unlike some positions at Maryland, there's plenty of talent and depth behind the solid group of starters. In fact, this group - already the best for Maryland - will probably be better in about three years than it is now. And I'm confident about that.
The most promising backup is sophomore Darin Drakeford, who saw time last year as a true freshman. He didn't get on the field nearly as much as I wanted, but he still had 13 tackles (mostly on special teams) and a jarring hit against Boston College that saved a 3rd down conversion. The super-athletic SAM 'backer will be stuck behind Moten this year, but he'll get plenty of playing time his junior season.
Two other linebackers joined Drakeford in burnning their redshirts last season, and both will figure in prominently to the team down the line. Ryan Donohue, another hard-nosed Jersey kid, could be the next Wujciak. Avery Murray didn't see the time that he should've, but like Drakeford, he'll be competing for a spot before long.
Even more pure talent lies beyond those three. David Mackall and Javarie Johnson, two freshmen who entered the program this spring, played on the defensive line in high school, but moved back to LB once arriving in College Park. I wouldn't be surprised if either ended up on the DL before they left. Both of them are scary fast, and had plenty of big-time suitors, including Michigan and Miami. The duo, who hail from Baltimore (Mackall) and DC (Johnson) very well could be the new blueprint for Maryland football recruiting: recruiting speed from the two big, talent-rich cities in Maryland's backyard.
Lorne Goree is another true freshman that entered the program in the spring, but he might have a tough time getting around the glut of players ahead of him. Desmond Kearse, a slender but lightning-fast Floridian, could also end up at LB, though I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up literally anywhere on the field, from safety to defensive end.
Where to watch. Wujciak. He came into spring ball claiming to be healthy and faster than ever. If that's true, he has the potential to be a monster. Marlyand's linebackers are a pretty safe bet right now to be good at the very least; a stellar senior campaign from Wujciak will be key to transforming them into one of the better groups in the country.
Importance level. Medium. The linebackers are great this year, but that won't mean squat if they aren't given any protection by the defensive line in front of them. They'll help ensure that the second level isn't weak, but if the defensive line is as bad as it can be, they won't be able to do much to help.
In a turtleshell. The best group on the team, the linebackers could be anywhere from solid to spectacular. They're filled with talent, but that won't make a difference if the defensive line can't get pressure or is gouged by offensive lines.
I leave you with: Not only is Wujciak a monster on the field, he's an interesting personality. His long hair is legend, but don't forget the one time he decided to go with corn rows.