COLLEGE PARK, MD - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Randy Edsall of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after the Terrapins intercepted a Clemson Tigers pass during the first half at Byrd Stadium on October 15, 2011 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Maryland and Randy Edsall released their spring football depth chart about a week ago, with a few surprises. One of them is just format - there's not a single "OR" on the chart, leaving us to figure out the position battles heading into camp. We did the offense yesterday, let's finish up with the defense today.
There are two injured defensive players not listed on the depth chart that will play when healthy - safety Kenny Tate (and yes, I'm hoping if I call him a safety enough it will be true) and cornerback Makinton Dorleant. There are a few freshmen coming in who should contend for playing time as well, namely linebacker Abner Logan, defensive end Roman Braglio, and linebacker Brock Dean.
Let's start on the defensive line of the new 3-4, where Joe Vellano is the only one who consider his job absolutely safe.
The case for Francis: A 2009 freshman All-American, Francis has played in all 37 games and started in 23 in his three years in College Park. In that time, he has 106 tackles (11.5 for a loss) and five and a half sacks. At 6'5", 305, he has very good size for a nose tackle, and has great on-the-field chemistry with Vellano - their styles play off each other perfectly. He's the most experienced lineman besides Vellano on the squad, has proven himself in big-play scenarios, and was seemingly born to play nose tackle. He's a blog favorite, and the big favorite to win this spot.
The case for Kilgo: At 6'3" and 300 pounds, he is also a prototypical nose tackle. He played in five games off the bench last year, and recorded five tackles. Really, the best argument for Kilgo is the fact that Francis (for one reason or another) never started consistently under Edsall.
The Pick - Francis. There could be a wild card, like Andre Monroe or Justin Anderson, but they're both listed as defensive ends at the moment. For whatever reason, it seems like Edsall (or Bradford) just didn't like Francis last year, and he spent most of the year off the bench. Between him and Kilgo, however, it seems to be a clear choice, and A.J. should spend his last year in College Park as a starter.
Keith Bowers, Andre Monroe, Isaiah Ross, Justin Anderson, and Quinton Jefferson.
The case for Bowers: He's currently listed as the starter opposite Vellano, so that's a big advantage. Bowers played in twelve games last season as a true freshman, starting in the last eleven, and was largely impressive - he had 36 tackles (six for a loss) with two and a half sacks. He also had the best year last season among the candidates who are true defensive ends.
The case for Monroe: Monroe exploded onto the scene last year as a defensive tackle, playing in nine games and starting in four. Despite being hampered by an injury, he finished the year with 18 tackles (an incredible seven and a half for a loss) and a team-high five sacks.
The case for Ross: Ross was injured and did not play after the first game of last year, but he's had a good career as a Terp reserve so far. He played in eight games as a freshman before getting hurt and all thirteen as a sophomore, recording 27 tackles (four and a half for a loss) and two and a half sacks. Ross actually started last season as a starter on the defensive line, but is behind Joe Vellano at the other defensive end position this year.
The case for Anderson: Anderson may actually be the prototypical choice for this position, as a hybrid defensive tackle/end that has switched between the two positions multiple times over the past few years. He didn't play at all last season, but as a sophomore he started in all 13 games at the "Anchor" position, recording 22 tackles (five and a half for a loss) with two sacks.
The case for Jefferson: Jefferson grayshirted last year after suffering a broken jaw, and heads into spring camp healthy and ready to play. He was a highly touted recruit out of PA, and has great potential as a defensive end down the line. The only question is whether he's ready to step on the field now.
The Pick - Whoa boy. I think it's really going to be a mix of Bowers and Monroe, depending who they're playing against. If Maryland throws in Monroe, you've essentially got a defensive line of three tackles, which is good against some slower, down-the-hill running teams, but with Bowers you have a quicker outside option to counter some different threats. I think Bowers gets most of the starts, but they see about equal playing time.
SAM (strong side linebacker)
Alex Twine and Abner Logan
The case for Twine: Like Bowers, Twine started a good amount as a true freshman last year - four of the eleven games he played in. He had a successful season, tying for eighth on the squad in tackles with 44 (four and a half for a loss) with one sack and three pass break-ups. He's clearly the more experienced of the two candidates, and did nothing last season to dispel thoughts of him as a starter.
The case for Logan: He's a four-star recruit coming out of Massachusetts, and has quickly turned himself into a fan favorite thanks to a very active Twitter account. By comparison, Twine was a completely unheralded prospect coming out of Quince Orchard. Logan is the most talented defensive player in this year's class, but that may not be enough.
The Pick: It's got to be Twine. He did fairly well as a starter last year, and Logan isn't enrolled early so the competition won't start until fall. And yes, we could see Kenny Tate here, but let's not talk about that.
MIKE (middle linebacker)
The case for Goree: After injuries ravaged the starting linebacking corps last season, Goree stepped up and had a big year. He played in all 12 games (starting seven), and was fifth on the team with 60 tackles (six for a loss). Goree also chipped in three and a half sacks, an interception, a fumble forced, and a fumble recovery.
The case for Farrand: Well, he's listed as the starter right now. Ben B. is a huge fan of Farrand, and has called him anything from a prototypical middle linebacker to the next coming of Alex Wujciak, so that's pretty high praise as well. As far as last season, they burned his redshirt to play nine games on special teams, where he got three tackles.
The Pick: Goree. Farrand is the starter now, and should see a lot of playing time in the 3-4, but Goree had a breakout season last year. It's hard to imagine him not starting in the middle with Hartsfield come game time.
Kenny Tate and Eric Franklin
The case for Tate: Where to start? Before his ill-fated switch to linebacker last year, Tate was one of the top defensive backs in the ACC, let alone the country. Listing his junior year stats would just take way too long, so just know that he was named to every All-ACC team imaginable and was the Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week after the win over Navy. He then moved to linebacker, played poorly, and got hurt. Luckily for Maryland, Tate received a medical redshirt, and Todd Bradford got canned, so hopefully we get to see a healthy, happy Kenny Tate prowling the secondary again.
The case for Franklin: Franklin was the only safety that stayed healthy throughout the year, and ended up second on the team with 106 tackles (four and a half for a loss). He broke up four tackles, recovered a fumble, blocked a kick, and had a generally solid year in the secondary. As a sophomore in 2010, he had three interceptions off the bench, and that was his best season to date. The main case for Franklin really stands with the uncertainty of Tate's health or position.
The Pick: You got to hope it's Tate, right? The only way it isn't is if Edsall insists Tate plays linebacker again, bumping him down to SAM so they can start Franklin and Matt Robinson together again. But let's not even think about that. Tate it is.
Your thoughts and your votes below, as usual.
Which position battle do you think is most important to Maryland's defense?
Defensive Tackle (Francis and Kilgo) (33 votes)
Defensive End (Bowers, Monroe, Ross, Anderson and Jefferson) (82 votes)
SAM (Twine and Logan) (14 votes)
MIKE (Goree and Farrand) (31 votes)
Free Safety (Tate and Franklin) (102 votes)
262 total votes