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Maryland football spring positional preview: Defensive line looks to replace Yannick Ngakoue

The Terps suffered some major losses from what was one of their most productive units in 2015.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland football program is eligible to start spring practices under DJ Durkin on March 8. Over the next few days, we'll be previewing where the Terps stack up at every position heading into the offseason's regular season.

The players

Returning starters: Roman Braglio, David Shaw, Azibuike Ukandu,

Other contributors: Jesse Aniebonam, Kingsley Opara, Cavon Walker, Malik Jones, Brett Kulka, Chandler Burkett

Coming off redshirts or haven't played yet: Adam McLean, Keiron Howard, Oseh Saine

Incoming freshmen: Dion Goldbourne (He won't be on campus until August.)

The overview

Maryland's defensive line took a huge leap forward in the pass-rushing department in 2015, but Yannick Ngakoue, one of the nation's leaders in sacks, decided to forego his senior season and declare for the draft. In his absence, new defensive coordinator Scott Shafer will turn to junior Jesse Aniebonam and senior Roman Braglio to make up for at least some of Ngakoue's lost production.

On the inside, the Terps get back David Shaw, who opened 2015 as the starter before suffering an elbow injury four games into the season. In his place, Quinton Jefferson alternated with Azibuike Ukandu and Kingsley Opara at tackle in the first season of the team's new 4-3 lineup. Jefferson had a good enough season that he too left a year of eligibility on the table to bolt for the NFL, but a healthy Adam McLean could go a long way in replacing him. McLean left school last season due to an eligibility issue, but is back with the program this spring as he continue to rehab from a knee injury he suffered in high school. He was Maryland's top-rated recruit in the class of 2015, and has the potential to slide into a starting role right away in the fall. If he doesn't, Ukandu and Opara provide solid veteran options for the Terps.

Position battles

David Shaw vs. Azibuike Ukandu vs. Kingsley Opara vs. Adam McLean

Shaw and McLean might be more talented, but both are coming off injuries this spring. Ukandu and Opara showed they were more than capable in 2015, and are certainly deserving of a look by the new coaching staff. This spring could see the bulk of the first-team reps go to Ukandu and Opara simply because they're healthy.

Key question

Can Jesse Aniebonam step up?

Aniebonam and Ngakoue each made the switch from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end last season, and Aniebonam now has a starting spot all to himself. He had 3.5 sacks last season, but that total should increase with an uptick in playing time. That, plus another year of experience at his new position, could make him one of the stars of Maryland's defense in 2016.

Breakout player

See above.

Spring depth chart projection

Position DE DT DT DL
1st unit Roman Braglio Azibuike Ukandu Kingsley Opara Jesse Aniebonam
2nd unit Cavon Walker David Shaw Adam McLean Chandler Burkett
3rd unit Brett Kulka Malik Jones Oseh Saine Dion Goldbourne