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Maryland’s 2 freshman defensive tackles look to break through in different ways in 2018

Austin Fontaine and Jalen Alexander come in with different pedigrees, but both have chances to compete for playing time.

austin fontaine @fontaine_austin on Twitter

It’s Defensive Tackles Week at Testudo Times. Our summer preview series has already been through the offense—from quarterbacks to running backs to receivers to the offensive line—and moved to defensive ends last week. Let’s talk about the youngest members of Maryland’s interior defensive line.

Austin Fontaine

Height: 6’3
Weight: 309 lbs.
Year: Freshman
Hometown: Hyattsville, Maryland
High school: DeMatha

Jalen Alexander, No. 88

Height: 6’4
Weight: 295lbs.
Year: Freshman
Hometown: Chesapeake, Virginia
High school: Western Branch

The background

Maryland added three talented defensive tackles in 2017, and kept that momentum going in the following recruiting cycle. When Fontaine committed last spring, he was the No. 69 player in the country and the No. 7 defensive tackle. While those rankings dipped a little to 160th and 15th, he still finished the cycle as Maryland’s second-highest-rated signee behind offensive tackle Jaelyn Duncan.

Alexander was one of the later additions to the 2018 class, pledging in October well after a busy summer. The three-star prospect enrolled in January, so he’s got a spring camp already under his belt. In a position group that’s both wide-open and full of viable options, that’s certainly a plus.

Fontaine has a real chance to contribute right away.

The offensive and defensive lines are often the hardest places for true freshmen to contribute, although there are a few notable exceptions every year. Fontaine might be one of them. He’s got the talent and comes from one of the premier high school conferences in the country. He’s already got the size of a college defensive tackle. And he plays a position in significant need of a spark.

We’ve been over Maryland’s struggles in stopping the run for a while now. The Terps finished 127th in the FBS in defensive rushing S&P+ in 2016 and only rose to 95th last season. Most of this team’s interior linemen in the last couple years have been somewhat undersized, but that won’t be an issue with Fontaine. At the moment, he profiles more as a 1-technique than as a nose tackle, and he’s one of Maryland’s bigger options at that spot. Whether he’s able to overcome an experience gap and beat a crowded field in fall camp remains to be seen.

Alexander doesn’t have the same immediate upside, but his versatility is a plus.

In spring practice, Alexander saw time at both defensive tackle and strong-side defensive end, and he’s got the size to be a fit at either position down the road. Coaches are high on his quickness and pass-rushing ability. It’s likely that Maryland will have too much older talent for Alexander to grab a prominent role in 2018, but he’s got as much as anyone to gain from the new NCAA rule that allows players to see action in four games before burning a redshirt.

Maryland’s current group of defensive tackles is filled with talented players without much experience. Because of that, the door is wide open for one or both of these rookies to quickly make a name for themselves.