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Maryland has a lot of defensive tackles, and is still searching for a way to get the most out of them

The Terps are replacing starters on the interior. Who’s gonna step up?

maryland football-2018-preview-depth-chart-roster-defensive-tackle Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Hey hey, it’s Defensive Tackles Week at Testudo Times. Our summer Profiles in Terpage preview series has already been through the entire offense, from quarterbacks to running backs to receivers to the offensive line. Last week, we started on the other side of the ball at defensive end.

For those thinking, “you devoted a whole week to defensive tackles?” well, Maryland has nearly 20 defensive linemen listed on its roster and we still have a month and a half until football starts. So let’s do this.

Here’s your overview of Maryland’s big men on the inside. We’ll dive more into specific players later this week.

Maryland’s top priority here will be improving the run defense.

The Terps’ defense was 92nd in rushing S&P+ in 2017. That’s up from 127th in 2016, but it’s still not near what Maryland needs to be competitive. The Terps allowed seven teams to rush for at least 200 yards, and each of those came in performances that allowed at least five yards per carry. Whether it was in passing situations, rushing situations, first downs or third downs, Maryland didn’t stand much of a chance against its opponents’ ground games in 2017.

(Maryland’s pass defense also struggled, finishing 95th in S&P+, and the interior line shares some of the blame for that too.)

They ranked 109th in rushing success rate, Bill Connelly’s stat that measures how a defense does at preventing its opponents from picking up yards piece-by-piece. That’s up just a few spots from last season, but again, much more improvement is needed there. It wasn’t all bad, though: Maryland did rank 20th in IsoPPP, which measures how a defense does at preventing explosive plays. But the defense needs still needs opponents to be rushing for more 2 or 3-yard gains and a lot fewer 5 and 7-yarders.

The Terps are replacing both starting interior linemen.

The way DJ Durkin’s team categorizes things, Maryland actually starts one player who is designated as the nose tackle and another who is officially termed a defensive tackle. The nose tackle is slightly larger and lines up closest to the opponent’s center, while the defensive tackle is slightly smaller and lines up between the guard and tackle. For this story, that’s all we’ll worry about.

Kingsley Opara and Cavon Walker were starters in 2017 and 2016, but they’ve exhausted their eligibility.

We don’t really know what’ll happen here. That’s for a couple reasons.

Losing the two most senior members at the position is a big one. Each player remaining has some question marks. Keiron Howard was second on the team in sacks with two last year, but even that was in a limited role. Mbi Tanyi and Oseh Saine are the senior members of this group, but they haven’t seen much extended time themselves.

The underclassmen are even tougher to project. Adam McLean showed promise at the end of last season after spending his first year with the team mostly on the bench, but is still unproven. Walk-on Seun Oluwatimi played last season, but we don’t know much about him besides the fact that he seems good enough not to be a walk-on anymore. Cam Spence and Breyon and Brandon Gaddy were promising recruits who redshirted last season, so we don’t know much there either. Jalen Alexander enrolled early, and his 6’4, 294-pound size suggests he could play on the inside or the outside. How soon he’d see the field, though, is an unknown right now.

These positions should be a lot more clear next year when the youngsters have matured. Until then, there’s a whole lot we don’t know.

There’s one big newcomer who could shake things up.

The only surefire way for Maryland to improve its interior defense is a major influx of talent. Spence and the Gaddy twins were highly regarded recruits and still have plenty of time to live up to their billings, but Austin Fontaine, Maryland’s top-rated defensive recruit in the Class of 2018, has the potential to play right away.

Here’s Fontaine blowing by people in the Under Armour All-America game.

Defensive linemen can need a year or two of seasoning, and Fontaine didn’t enroll early, so it’s not clear when he’ll see the field. But if he’s ready to go right away as a freshman—a big ask, to be fair—that could be huge.