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Maryland Football Preview, Position-By-Position: Defensive Line

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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's pourous offensive line gets all the talk around College Park as the team's weakest link, but their defensive counterpart is no masterpiece of its own. Their inability to pressure the quarterback or defend the run last year was a major reason for the failure of Don Brown's defense.. This year, no starter has their spot locked down, and its likely that whoever "starts" will start in name only, as a rotation is expected.

This group is young and mostly unproven, but there is an upside. There are plenty of talented members, and there's a surprising amount of depth and potential starter-level linemen. Unlike the offensive line, the talent level is not significantly less than what it should be, at least not on paper. The question Maryland has to face actually has to do with their experience and finding a group that gels and works together.

The starters. Like I said, no one has their spot locked down right now. A few starters from last year graduated, and the remaning ones have faced stiff competition in spring practice.

The closest thing to an entrenched starter is rapper turned surprisingly good defensive tackle A.J. Francis. Francis was forced into a starting spot as a redshirt freshman last year, but he held his own and was one of the bright spots on the line (last year I said he was "slightly above-average", which is very good for last year). He's big and quick, and even though he struggled at times last year he has a very high ceiling.

Joe Vellano, though, returned from an injury that kept him out of most of last year and was impressive in spring ball. Whether or not he can beat out Francis is unknown, but the staff was extremely high on him, unusually so.

After that, there are a lot of questions. Derek Drummond figures to be a starter at one defensive end spot, but Drew Gloster is a new contender there and is more than able to fight it out with Drummond, who was average when he played last year. Gloster is a converted tight end (via middle linebacker), and is stronger and bigger than Drummond. Both are athletic and quick, which is probably what Brown is looking for at the DE spot. Ultimately, Drummond holds the edge in what figures to be one of the key positions on the line.

The next competition is between Zach Kerr and DeOnte Arnett at the defensive tackle spot next to Francis. There couldn't be a more different pair to battle for the spot. Kerr is an oversized space eater, a prototypical nose-tackle with surprising quickness. Arnett is a converted defensive end, and stands 45 pounds lighter and two inches taller than Kerr. He's quicker than Kerr and has a long wingspan; he'll likely be a bigger factor in the passing game than Kerr.

If I'm betting, my money goes on Kerr, though not by much. This battle will be decided in the fall, and maybe even during the season.

The final spot likely goes to Justin Anderson, who saw plenty of playing time as a true freshman last year. He's quick and surprisingly strong, and was actually rather good in his time last year. But he's ahead of Masengo Kabongo, a redshirt sophomore that was supposed to have star potential when he came into the program three years ago. That hasn't happened, obviously, but he's wider and almost as quick as Anderson. Both are talented, and like Kerr-Arnett, this may not be decided until the season starts.

The backups. For most of them, you can go ahead and read the last section. We don't know who the starters are going to be, so we don't know who the backups are going to be, at least not exactly. For the sake of discussion, we'll make some assumptionms. The first is that Joe Vellano won't beat out A.J. Francis, meaning Vellano will be the most prominent #2 on the line. That's no small surprise.

He missed the majority of the year last year and had struggled with injuries and obscurity before then. But he made an impression this spring, and the coaches praised his work ethic and ability to disrupt plays. He'll be able to spell Francis and maybe even get some time at the other DT spot.

Meanwhile, Gloster and Kabongo will also make an impact in the rotation, provided they don't start, which is possible. Arnett and Kerr very well may rotate based on the situation; Kerr will definitely be in for running situations, while Arnett may filter in in passing situations.

Past the starting contenders, there's still plenty of depth, and even a few players who'll be able to see the field. Isaiah Ross and Carl Russell both saw playing time last year as freshmen, and Ross especially seems like a future starter. Ross is ultra-versatile and used to play linebacker before moving down to the line, where he can play all four positions. His versatility will allow him to move around and find playing time even when he doesn't start.

After that perhaps lies the future of Maryland's defensive line. Bradley Johnson, Marcus Whitfield, Javarie Johnson, and David Mackall were all recruited as linebackers. Javarie Johnson and Mackall may still end up there. Johnson and Whitfield, however, have now offiically changed positions to defensive end. That switch may be the first sign of the way that Don Brown arranges Maryland's defense: with speed.

Javarie and Mackall are undeniably fast and should be great as edge rushers. Johnson and Whitfield weren't as lauded for their speed at LB, but they'll be scary fast as linemen. Make no mistake, they're undersized, at 220 and 230 respectively, but speed has always been extremely important in the college game, perhaps even moreso than strength. Maryland's new recruiting strategy has placed an emphasis on speed, and this move mirrors it. I have no idea how much they'll play, but their first snaps will be ones of note.

This line goes two-deep with players I wouldn't feel bad starting, and at some positions farther than that. That's not to say it's a particularly great line - it's certainly not - but there's more depth and talent here than on other side of the ball.

Where to watch. De'Onte Arnett and Derek Drummond. Maryland wasn't particularly great at stopping the run or gettting pressure on the QB, but its far easier for one person to make an impact on the latter than the former. Drummond's spot will be key for that; neither he nor Tommy Galt was able to consistently apply pressure, which is problematic considering he's considered athletic and a pass-rushing specialist.

Likewise, if Arnett receives serious playing-time, his defensive end instincts will be key to getting to the QB and penetrating. He's not big enough to collapse the pocket consistently, but he's quick and fast enough to work his way into the backfield. Getting more pressure and sacks will be key for Maryland and their uncertain secondary.

Importance level. High. It's a cliche to say that games are won and lost in the trenches, but its no less true. Maryland was dominated on both sides the past few years, and it can't happen again. Last year, Maryland had a consistent, if unspectacular, secondary to work with, with steady safeties that didn't make a lot of mistakes. That's not the case this year. The Terps' DL can't give QBs all day to throw, or its likely mistakes will be made. Similarly, they can't rely on blitzing two linebackers to get any sort of pressure, for similar reasons.

I leave you with: You probably don't need to be reminded of Francis' musical endeavours, but I'll remind you anyway. We need to have a three-way rap battle with J Lew and Stogs ASAP.