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Maryland football's starting defensive line looks clear for the moment

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There are a whole lot of moving parts behind them, though.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Hey guys, spring practice is underway, so we’re going unit-by-unit and projecting what we think the depth chart will look like at each position in 2017. We’ll include notes from spring practice where we can. We looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen, and now we’re onto the defensive line.

Maryland football is losing two starters from its defensive line, but that might not matter much for a unit that’ll need to get a whole lot better for the Terps to improve.

Maryland was second-to-last among Division I teams in defensive rushing S&P+, which measures the totality of how a run defense performs. Opponents ran all over the Terps in 2016, and it severely hamstrung their chances of competing in the Big Ten. That’s probably not going to change overnight, but the addition of new defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh and some new recruits could help.

The players

Departures: Roman Braglio, Azubuike Ukandu (graduation)

Returning players: Kingsley Opara, Cavon Walker, Jesse Aniebonam, Chandler Burkett, Brett Kulka, Melvin Keihn, Mbi Tanyi, Oseh Saine, Keiron Howard, Adam McLean

Transfers: David Shaw, who left for Montana

Players who used to be tight ends and are now defensive linemen but haven’t played defensive line in a game so we don’t know much about them: Andrew Isaacs

Incoming freshmen: Bryce Brand, Breyon and Brandon Gaddy, Cam Spence, Lawtez Rogers, B’Ahmad Miller, Dion Goldbourne (redshirt)

Projected defensive line depth chart

Depth chart DE NT DT BUCK
Depth chart DE NT DT BUCK
Starters Chandler Burkett Kingsley Opara Cavon Walker Jesse Aniebonam
2nd team Dion Goldbourne Adam Mclean Brett Kulka Melvin Keihn
3rd team Andrew Isaacs Breyon Gaddy Cam Spence Bryce Brand
4th team Brandon Gaddy Oseh Saine Mbi Tanyi Nnamdi Egbuaba
Lawtez Rogers
B'Ahmad Miller

Here’s why

There’s a whole lot to sort out on the defensive line, but these starters should be pretty iron-clad. Roman Braglio’s graduation means Maryland needs a new starting defensive end, but Chandler Burkett saw a good amount of action at the end of last season, so he seems like the guy to take his place. Azubuike Ukandu’s gone too, but Kingsley Opara and Cavon Walker played in a regular rotation with him last year at defensive tackle.

Behind those guys, this is a crapshoot. There are so many moving parts and variables here. A lot of these guys lack in-game experience. Dion Goldbourne, Adam McLean, Oseh Saine, Keiron Howard, Mbi Tanyi and Andrew Isaacs (a senior moving from tight end) played seldom or not at all in 2016.

Key battle: Adam McLean vs. Brett Kulka vs. the freshmen

Even though it appears Opara and Walker will be the starters on the inside, Maryland’s going to be rotating 4 to 6 players there. Head coach DJ Durkin’s spoken fond words about McLean, a former four-star recruit who didn’t travel with the team on a couple occasions as a true freshman. Maryland will need him to bolster a unit that was the team’s worst in 2016. Kulka didn’t come with McLean’s pedigree, but he’s clearly impressed coaches. He made five starts in 2016, and though he’s just 260 pounds, he’s physical and versatile enough to move around and play in multiple fronts.

Maryland also brought in two four-star defensive tackles who will get to College Park this summer. Cam Spence and Breyon Gaddy are wild cards here. It can take a while for freshmen to acclimate on the defensive line, but they’ll be given every chance to compete.

Big question: can a new coach improve the run defense?

Brumbaugh adds co-defensive coordinator duties to his job as defensive line coach, and comes with a solid-enough pedigree. He’ll be tasked with reshaping that awful run defense, and that won’t be easy. Regression means Maryland probably won’t have a bottom-10 defense again, but for this to become a strength rather than a weakness, a lot has to change.

Part of that will just be bringing in better players. Spence and the Gaddy twins go a long way in starting that, and there are some local 2018 players who’d be able to bolster the defense as well should they come to Maryland.

Maybe Brumbaugh will be able to get more out of this defense than Mike London, his predecessor, could. Maybe the veterans will be more acclimated to the system in Year 2, and maybe the freshman will contribute right away. We’ll find out pieces of this puzzle during spring practice, and we’ll have a more concrete picture come August and September.