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Maryland football’s linebackers struggled to adjust to a new scheme in 2016

The Terps’ new 4-2-5 alignment wasn’t an easy transition, but things should get better next year.

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NCAA Football: Maryland at Florida International Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26. With the regular season now firmly in the rear view, it’s time to enter postseason analysis mode. We’re doing a position-by-position evaluation of the team. Let’s check in with the linebackers.

The players

Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF
Jermaine Carter, Jr. LB 6'0, 235 JR 82 10.60% 9 6 1 4 2
Shane Cockerille LB 6'2, 235 JR 80 10.30% 8 3 0 1 0
Jalen Brooks LB 6'1, 232 JR 20 2.60% 2 1 0 2 0
Isaiah Davis ILB 6'1, 235 FR 15.5 2.00% 0 0 0 0 0
Mbi Tanyi OLB 6'1, 305 SO 8 1.00% 0 0 0 0 0

What we thought was going to happen

My linebacker season preview was essentially a prediction of how Jermaine Carter Jr. and Shane Cockerille might play this season. Here’s the former:

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.

The latter:

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.

What actually happened

Maryland’s linebackers had to adjust to a new scheme this season, going from a 4-3 in Randy Edsall’s final season to a 4-2-5 in DJ Durkin’s first year. It didn’t go great.

Carter looked occasionally out of place. He was a good middle linebacker, but the scheme shift meant he was playing a position that is closer to a regular outside linebacker than he’s used to. He was responsible for a lot more, and his lack of speed showed at times. He had his moments, like this interception/forced fumble/whatever:

And he was also voted by his teammates as Maryland’s defensive MVP. He led the team in tackles and had nine tackles for loss, including six sacks. Carter seemed to get used to his new position as the season went on. He had 15 tackles against Rutgers, including two sacks, and earned the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any player in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Cockerille was in for a big adjustment no matter what. He was moving from fullback/quarterback to linebacker, and it showed. Coaches talked all season about how Cockerille needed to improve his eyes, and this was apparent in the angles he took. This isn’t supposed to be viewed as much of a knock on Cockerille, who never played linebacker before last spring and was immediately sprung into a starting role.

He did what he could, leading the team in tackles during the regular season. Following Durkin’s advice, whatever he did, he did it as hard and as fast as he could. Sometimes that resulted in missed assignments and overpursuing, but it was the best Maryland could ask for.

What might happen in the future

Cockerille was ruled academically ineligible for Maryland’s bowl game, which could potentially put his status with the program up in the air. Carter’s coming back next season for sure.

Beyond that, we don’t know too much.

Isaiah Davis played in place of Cockerille in the Quick Lane Bowl, while Jalen Brooks saw time when Maryland played in a true 4-3 alignment. Junior college recruit Nick Underwood is joining the team for the spring semester, and could be in for a big role in 2017. Carter will again be a mainstay. The rest is up in the air.