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Jermaine Carter Jr. should lead an effective linebacker group for Maryland football

One of the teams’s best players and a converted quarterback headline the unit.

maryland spring practice
Middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. is primed to be one of Maryland’s best players.
Alexander Jonesi

Maryland’s linebackers had a solid 2015 considering they were replacing two injured starters. After Jefferson Ashiru and Abner logan went down with injuries, Jermaine Carter Jr., Avery Thompson and Jalen Brooks headlined what was a solid, if unspectacular unit as a whole.

Maryland is losing two linebackers from last season: Thompson, who graduated, and Logan, who left the program. Logan seemed destined to start this season after missing 2015 with an injury, but the team has capable replacements, and a scheme change should help.

DJ Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh are installing their defense at Maryland, which will look a little bit different than what we saw from Randy Edsall’s teams.

(We could include Jesse Aniebonam or Melvin Keihn here because they’ll be playing the “buck,” a hybrid defensive line/linebacker position, but we’re going to put them in our defensive line preview instead.)

NCAA Football: Maryland at Ohio State
Jermaine Carter Jr. tackles Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Jermaine Carter Jr. could be Maryland’s best player

While Will Likely is the most popular man on the defense, Carter’s role is just as important. The middle linebacker is essentially the quarterback of the defense, and Maryland will benefit from the fact that it has a very good one. Carter led the team in tackles last season with 104, and was especially good at getting into the backfield on run plays. If Carter follows up and has a 2016 season that’s as good as his 2015, Maryland’s run defense should benefit a whole lot.

Shane Cockerille finally has a home, and appears to be excelling

You know the story by know. Cockerille was recruited to Maryland as a quarterback, then last year was switched to fullback. Then when Randy Edsall was fired, Mike Locksley switched Cockerille back to quarterback. Then after the season, Cockerille switched to linebacker. And linebacker is a spot that makes sense for him. He’s an athletic, powerful guy. Cockerille wasn’t going to crack the team’s quarterback depth chart, and Maryland already had a fullback in Kenneth Goins. Here, he has the chance to maximize his athleticism and finally get his career going.

There isn’t much tape from which to evaluate Cockerille’s skills as a linebacker. He seems physical and has some speed, but he was never a guy who jumped out at Maryland’s spring game or last Saturday’s scrimmage. Most of what we have to go on here is simply the coaching staff’s impressions of him, which so far are good, and the fact that in the scrimmage and in practice, he’s been the guy sharing the field with Carter the most.

Two linebackers might be all this team needs

In goal-line and obvious run situations, Maryland will probably have three linebackers on the field. But the Terps might not have three linebackers on the field all that often in 2016.

If we’re using Saturday’s scrimmage as our only reference point, then Maryland’s going to be playing a whole lot of nickel this season. That means five defensive backs and only two linebackers. Carter and Cockerille were out there with the first team for the majority of snaps on Saturday, and they look like they’ll be Maryland’s starters.

In situations where the team wants to use three linebackers, Jalen Brooks should be the next guy on the field. He was a starter for most of last season, and besides Carter, is the team’s most experienced linebacker.

Behind him is a host of unproven talent. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Davis, Sean Davis’s younger brother, saw the field plenty in Saturday’s scrimmage, and could get some run early in the season.

The rest is a mystery

Youngsters Tyler Burke, Gus Little, Brett Shephard, Nnamdi Egbuaba and Antoine Brooks could see time on special teams, and a couple of them will probably participate in occasional defensive sets. We don’t really know what we’re getting from any of these guys, either. They were all three-star recruits, just like Carter was, and none of them have seen much time on defense or had much press about them. Barring any injuries, they probably won’t have big roles in the defense in 2016. But who knows, that could change.