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Maryland's defensive line has talent, questions heading into new scheme

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After graduating their entire starting defensive line, the Terps will be relying on some key contributions from a young group as they switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive line has some big shoes to fill now that Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo and Andre Monroe have all graduated.

Randy Edsall and new defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski will be relying on youth and speed as the Terps switch from 3-4 to 4-3 formation up front in 2015. After having those three seniors start almost every game in 2014, this year's lineup will rely on a mix of juniors, sophomores and potentially an impact freshman, with zero senior defensive linemen on the roster.

Here's what the line looks like:



Yannick Ngakoue (Junior, 6'2', 250 lbs.)

Ngakoue looks to be one of the team's defensive stars along with corner Will Likely. After playing linebacker for his first two seasons, he's made the switch to defensive end now, and will be able to devote all his time to rushing the passer and stopping the run. The junior finished second on the team last year with six sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, and those numbers could climb this year. With the departures of Kilgo, Bowers and Monroe, Ngakoue will be looked upon to lead the front seven.

Some highlights from his 2014 season:

Roman Braglio (Junior 6'3", 267 lbs.)

Braglio appeared in all 13 games last year and started one for the Terps, and that experience alone makes him one of the prime bench contributors coming into the 2015 season. The junior had 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season, and will be in contention for a starting job.

Cavon Walker (Junior 6'2", 254 lbs.)

A former SAM linebacker, Walker recently moved down to the defensive line and should challenge for playing time at end. A former star defender at Friendship Collegiate Academy (D.C.), he's struggled with injury in his time in College Park but has recorded four-tackle games against Virginia and James Madison.


David Shaw (Sophomore, 6'4, 308 lbs.)

Shaw was a limited contributor his freshman season, playing in seven games and starting one against Penn State, but he is one of the most promising and talented players returning inside. The sophomore appeared in seven games last season, registering four tackles and a sack. Shaw will be the biggest man on the line next year, and will need to hold his own against the guards and centers in the Big Ten for the Terps to have a good front seven. Shaw is coming off knee surgery in March, but should be ready for the beginning of the season.

Malik Jones (Sophomore, 6'4", 269 lbs.)

The sophomore appeared in the 2014 season open against James Madison, but did not register any stats on the season. He saw first-team playing time at tackle during the spring, and could start with Shaw.

Quinton Jefferson (Junior, 6'3'', 285 lbs.)

Jefferson started the first three games of the 2014 season before suffering a season-ending injury, but started every game his sophomore year in 2013, registering three sacks and seven tackles for loss. After spending his two healthy seasons at defensive end, the junior could shift inside to play tackle in the new scheme. After a lost season, Jefferson should provide quickness and and an ability to get into the backfield, either from tackle or end.


Jessie Aniebonam (Sophomore, 6'4", 248 lbs.)

A speedy pass-rusher like Ngakoue, Aniebonam is also making the switch from linebacker to end this season. With Jefferson kicking inside, the sophomore should be able to claim one of the starting end spots. Aniebonam was a major contributor on third downs last year and played in every game for the Terps, registering 14 tackles and half a sack.

Adam McLean (Freshman, 6'3", 280 lbs.)

The four-star recruit was one of the crown jewels of Edsall's recruiting class, but a lingering ACL injury from high school will likely keep him redshirted this year.

Azubuike Ukandu (Junior, 6'0", 306 lbs.)

The transfer from Towson has the size the team is looking for at tackle, and that alone should put him in a position to get some snaps behind Shaw, Jones and Jefferson, especially in run situations.

Kingsley Opara (RS Sophomore, 6'4", 308 lbs.)

The Jacksonville product missed his freshman year due to injury and did not appear in a game in 2014, but he's over 300 pounds, so he'll get opportunities at tackle.

Chandler Burkett (Sophomore 6'4", 237 lbs.)

At 237 pounds, the third player to shift from linebacker to end also projects as a pass rusher. He only appeared in one game last season, and still likely needs to bulk up more to realize his potential at end, but should see some time backing up Ngakoue and Aniebonam.

Keiron Howard (Freshman, 6'4", 280 lbs.)

Oseh Saine (Freshman 6'3", 280 lbs.)

Both of these freshmen tackles could see playing time in 2015, with their superior size giving them a leg up on many other players at the position. Don't expect them to grab a starting job, but at least one will see the field.

Ruben Franco (Junior, 6'5", 244 lbs.)

The junior has yet to see game action for the Terps. Not much is known about him, but he has an opportunity with the limited depth at the end to get on the field this season.

Brett Kulka (RS Freshman, 6'4", 260 lbs.)

Kulka put 20 pounds on this offseason, and should compete for a spot at backup tackle or end, and should receive some playing time behind Shaw.