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Maryland football's depleted linebacker unit had a tough time in 2015

Injuries played a part in a down year for what should be a deep unit next season.

Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. makes a tackle against Ohio State
Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. makes a tackle against Ohio State
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It's rare for a team to go through a season without the injury bug hitting one unit hard. In 2012, it hit Maryland's quarterbacks. In 2015, it hit the team's linebackers. Abner Logan and Jefferson Ashiru, both of whom entered the season as projected starters, went down in 2015, forcing the Terps into a tough situation.

What we expected to happen

We didn't separate the linebackers and defensive tackles in our season preview, but we expected Maryland to stifle the run a little better than it did in 2014 due to its shift to a 4-3 alignment. However, the linebacker unit was mired in uncertainty, as the Terps were graduating three of last season's starters (Matt Robinson, Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree) and moving one (Yannick Ngakoue) to defensive end. Maryland did significantly better against the run in 2015, but the team's pass defense was worse.

The players

Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jermaine Carter Jr. LB 6'0, 240 JR 84.5 11.9% 14.0 0 0 3 0 0
Jalen Brooks LB 6'1, 232 SO 48.0 6.8% 1 0 2 1 1 0
Avery Thompson LB 6'2, 228 SR 30.0 4.2% 0.5 0 0 2 0 0
Brett Zanotto LB 5'10, 220 FR 18.0 2.5% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Jefferson Ashiru LB 6'1, 235 SR 18.0 2.5% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Burke LB 6'3, 245 FR 7.0 1.0% 1.0 0 0 1 0 0

The numbers

Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 61.2% 53 60.1%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 30.6% 97 33.8%
Overall Havoc Rate 16.8% 51 16.5%
DL Havoc Rate 6.9% 24 5.2%
LB Havoc Rate 3.1% 101 4.6%
DB Havoc Rate 6.6% 54 6.5%
PD to INC 29.4% 92 32.8%

The basics

After injuries to Logan (preseason) and Ashiru (week 6), Jermaine Carter Jr. stepped up as the leader of the linebacking corps. As the middle linebacker and a member of the team's leadership council, he would have been an important piece anyway, but he took on an even larger role without Logan and Ashiru by his side.

Sophomore Jalen Brooks opened the season as Logan's replacement, finishing the season fifth on the team with 48 tackles. Filling in for Ashiru for the final six games of the season, senior Avery Thompson finished with 30 tackles and 2 pass break-ups. Maryland would have probably seen a better performance out of Logan and Jefferson, both of whom were four-star recruits.

The linebackers definitely helped contribute to Maryland's vast improvement stopping the run, where the Terps moved from 72nd to 34th in defensive S&P+. However, the stats don't tell a very favorable story about the unit as a whole.

Maryland's linebackers finished with the 101st linebacker havoc rate in the country, which measures the percentage of plays on which the unit made a tackle for a loss, forced a fumble or defensed a pass. Maryland's defensive backs had the 54th-best havoc rate in the country, so some of the blame for Maryland's 77th-ranked defense in passing S&P+ has to fall on the linebackers.

That said, the unit also deserves some praise for the team's improvement in rushing S&P+, where the Terps went from 72nd in 2014 to 34th 2015. As the team's leading tackler, Carter deserves a lot of credit for that jump. Behind outstanding defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, he was in opposing team's backfields more than anyone else on the team, registering 14 tackles for loss, only 0.5 fewer than Ngakoue.

The future

Carter will be one of the faces of Maryland's defense next season, while Logan and Brooks should be back to man the outside linebacker spots. Joining them will be Melvin Keihn, who sat out this season after transferring from Virginia Tech, but should be poised to challenge for a starting spot as well.

Ashiru's position is unclear, as he could potentially gain a medical redshirt and be granted a final year of eligibility. Keandre Jones, Maryland's four-star outside linebacker commit in the class of 2016, could also be ready to see playing time next year. With or without Jones, Maryland looks to have enough depth next season to withstand some injuries. If everyone stays healthy, the Terps should have quality unit that matches up well with the rest of the Big Ten.