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Maryland football’s sophomore linebackers hope to carve out spots in the rotation

These second-year linebackers should make a big jump this season.

Ohio State v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Our summer profile series is back and we’re previewing Maryland football one position group at a time.

Though the status of the upcoming season remains up in the air, head coach Mike Locksley remains steadfast in his efforts to rebuild the Terp football program from the ground up.

So far, we’ve previewed the 2020 roster position-by-position, dedicating this week to the Terp linebacker group. Yesterday, I took a look at Chance Campbell’s projected role in the team next season, and today we’ll talk about Maryland’s sophomore linebackers.

Fa’Najae Gotay, No. 23

Height: 5’10
Weight: 221
Year: Redshirt sophomore
High School: North Fort Myers HS
Hometown: North Fort Myers, Fla.

2019 stats: 26 tackles, (15/11), 0.5 TFL

Career stats: 29 tackles (17/12), 1.0 TFL

Durell Nchami, No. 30

Height: 6’4
Weight: 250
Year: Redshirt sophomore
High School: Paint Branch
Hometown: Burtonsville, Md.

2019 stats: N/A (injured in preseason)

Career stats: 14 tackles (7/7), 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 PD, 1 BLK

Cortez Andrews, No. 36

Height: 6’0
Weight: 233
Year: Sophomore
High School: Amos P. Godby
Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.

2019 stats: 6 tackles (3/3), 2.0 TFL

Career stats: 6 tackles (3/3), 2.0 TFL

Ahmad McCullough, No. 19

Height: 6’1
Weight: 220
Year: Redshirt sophomore
High School: Mount Saint Joseph
Hometown: Baltimore, Md.

2019 stats: N/A

Career stats: N/A

The background

Of the quartet of sophomore linebackers that Maryland’s defense brings into next season, Gotay is almost certainly the most experienced.

Originally a three-star recruit in the class of 2018 per 24/7 Sports Composite, Gotay saw action in four games his freshman season, tallying three total tackles before opting to redshirt the remainder of the season.

Gotay became a regular in the Terps’ linebacker rotation in 2019, making nine appearances and notching 26 tackles, 15 of which came in his first career start against Michigan State.

Despite suffering an ACL tear prior to the 2019 season, Nchami has plenty of potential to be a dynamic defensive playmaker for the Terps.

Nchami made several splash plays in his 10 appearances as a freshman, recording eight solo tackles, finishing fourth on the team in tackles for loss (4.5), and adding a sack and a blocked punt. Due to his immense physical profile (6’4, 250 lbs), Nchami figures to give the opposing offense problems no matter where he lines up.

Andrews was the highest-rated recruit of Maryland’s freshman linebackers last season but has not found his way on the field consistently yet. Originally recruited as a safety, Andrews was a three-star recruit per the 24/7 Sports Composite with offers from some of the blue-blood programs of the SEC in Alabama, Auburn and Florida.

After signing with Maryland, Andrews was converted to an outside linebacker and made six appearances as a reserve linebacker and on special teams, picking up six tackles (three solo) on the season.

McCullough’s path to College Park began in the junior college system, spending a season at Hutchinson Community College before joining the Terps in the class of 2018. Despite being the No. 7 JUCO outside linebacker recruit in his class per the 24/7 Sports Composite, McCullough has yet to record a tackle at Maryland.

Maryland typically rotates in sophomores

Last season, Maryland utilized a steady linebacker rotation that allowed several players to cycle onto the field throughout the season.

Chance Campbell was one of the primary beneficiaries of that last season, finishing fifth on the team in tackles as a sophomore despite making just two starts. The Terps also relied heavily on Ayinde “Ace” Eley on the weak side of the defense as well, grooming the sophomore linebacker for a leadership role going forward.

Though some of the starting linebacker positions for next season may be set, there will be no shortage of opportunities for some of these sophomores to get on the field.

Due to his experience in the system and his on-field production, Gotay can be expected to inherit a similar role to Campbell’s in 2019. Given how much Maryland’s defense has relied on its first reserve inside linebacker in the past, Gotay should see plenty of snaps in 2020 and have the opportunity to build on his play from last season.

As for Nchami, his ability to rush the passer should put in him in the competition to earn the starting SAM role on the strong side of the defense. Keandre Jones held down that position for all of last season, but having graduated, the top contenders for the starting spot will likely be Nchami and four-star incoming freshman Ruben Hyppolite II.

Andrews’ role going forward should be one of the more interesting developments on the defensive side of the ball this season. He was known for his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield in high school (18 TFL, 9.5 sacks as a senior), as well as defend against the pass (4 PD), so rotating him in on the edge as a JACK could be a natural fit.

But his impressive lateral speed and knack for taking the best angle to the ball-carrier could lend itself to a role on the inside. Either way, Andrews’ hybrid skillset could make him a jack of all trades type of defender that defensive coordinator Jon Hoke can move all over the field.