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Jesse Aniebonam’s return to the defensive line will be key for Maryland football

The fifth-year senior missed almost all of last season with a broken ankle. He’s got one more shot to ball out with the Terps.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Florida International
Aniebonam wears No. 6 now, but he got hurt so early last season that we don’t have pictures of him in it.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It is now Defensive Ends Week at Testudo Times. The offensive portion of our position group previews has come to a close. We’ve made it through the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and offensive line. Now it’s time to hit the other side of the ball.

Jesse Aniebonam, BUCK, No. 6

Height: 6’3
Weight: 259 lbs.
Year: Redshirt senior
Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland
High school: Good Counsel

The background

Coming out of high school, Aniebonam was a top-100 recruit and a U.S. Army All-America Bowl participant. He committed to Maryland in the Class of 2014 and hit the field immediately as a freshman.

Aniebonam played in 39 straight games at Maryland, but his senior season ended before even really getting started. A broken ankle in Week 1 against Texas meant he’d have to wait one more year before he could finish his Terp career.

Aniebonam was a monster in his last full season.

After playing behind now-Jacksonville Jaguar Yannick Ngakoue during his first two seasons, Aniebonam was poised for a breakout junior year, and that’s exactly what he produced.

In 2016, Aniebonam led the team with 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 13 games. The 89 negative yards he caused on tackles for loss was the eighth-best mark in program history. His 30 pressures led all Big Ten 3-4 outside linebackers. Heading into 2017, he was set up perfectly to be a leader of the defense and a handful for offenses.

His injury puts all that into question.

The injury bug bit Maryland hard at key positions last season. Outside of quarterback, its biggest effect may have been at BUCK, where Aniebonam was supposed to be a three-down force for the Terps. But his injury kept him out for the entire season.

Aniebonam didn’t participate in spring practice, but the hope is he’ll be ready for the season. There’s been no word on what complications kept him out of spring practice, but he was running right around New Year’s so something had to have gone awry in between.

A healthy Aniebonam could be a scheme-changing development for Maryland. Without him, the Terps would have to rely on a group of young, largely inexperienced guys to fill in.

His return to full strength is imperative for this defense.

After finishing 121st out of 130 teams in adjusted sack rate last season, Maryland desperately needs to find some semblance of a pass rush heading into 2018. Adding Byron Cowart should only help, as should the addition of Durell Nchami and another year in the system for Bryce Brand.

Ideally, though, Cowart plays opposite Aniebonam at strong-side defensive end so Aniebonam can get after the passer. That’s what he does best, just like his cousin Osi Umenyiora. Having Aniebonam back in the lineup will also prevent the Terps from having to play people out of position like they did most of last season. That alone should push a defensive line that looked helpless at times last season in the right direction.