It’s been a rough stretch for Maryland football’s defensive front. The unit has one sack in four games since its bye week, and it’s allowed 200 rush yards three times in that span.
The Terps lost their best pass rusher, Jesse Aniebonam, for the season in the first game. They’ve spent the five contests since trying a handful of different combinations, with varying degrees of success. In Maryland’s last two games, the opposing ground attack has had its way, which adds to the problem.
The struggles up front will force DJ Durkin and his staff to make some decisions regarding the Terps’ handful of blue-chip freshmen at the position. Maryland landed a handful of well-regarded defensive line prospects in the 2017 recruiting class, but most of those freshmen—including four-star defensive tackle Cam Spence, as well as twins Breyon and Brandon Gaddy—have stayed on the sidelines this season.
“There’s guys we feel that need the benefit of redshirting that we’ve put in a developmental program that I’d rather not take out of that,” Durkin said Tuesday. “Obviously we’ve lost a couple guys up there we feel can help us get to the quarterback. So it’s just the guys we got—keep getting better, help them by coaching them, developing them and improving.”
Durkin made clear in his first year at Maryland that playing true freshmen wasn’t a concern. But the trenches on both sides of the ball are widely regarded as the toughest spots to break in right away.
“If we feel a guy can help us win and put us in the best position to do that, we’re going to play him, no matter what his age is or what he does. That has not changed,” Durkin said. “There’s things positionally, where as you start looking, if there’s someone on the borderline, I think it’s position-specific.
“It’s a little bit of, ‘OK, could he benefit from a couple snaps a game? Sure. But is that worth where we’re going to need him to be a year from now, or what’s going on with the rest of the position?’ So just managing the roster that way. There’s a lot of those conversations, it’s really individually based. It’s not an overall theme.”
While Maryland still has a handful of upperclassman defensive tackles, the pass rushing woes might give other players a chance. There’s defensive end Lawtez Rogers, as well as Ayinde Eley, a former three-star linebacker who could wind up seeing time at the BUCK in Maryland’s 4-2-5 defense.
Maryland promises recruits the chance to compete right away, but knows that not every recruit will crack the two-deep as a freshman. There’s always a gray area, though, and as the season plays out, conundrums will present themselves.
“As we get into the midpoint of the season, we have to make a decision there, whether we want to burn the redshirt or play them,” defensive coordinator Andy Buh said Wednesday. “We’re trying to win every game, so most of the time, if they’re really, truly ready ... we’re gonna use them.”