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Maryland football spring positional preview: Jermaine Carter Jr. leads healthy linebacker unit

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After an injury-filled season, the Terps should be fairly stacked at linebacker this spring.

Jeffrey Becker-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: Jermaine Carter Jr., Jalen Brooks, Abner Logan, maybe Jefferson Ashiru (in the unlikely event he gets a medical redshirt)

Other contributors: Brett Zanotto, Tyler Burke, Nnamdi Egbuaba, Mbi Tayni

Coming off redshirts or haven't played yet: Melvin Keihn, Isaiah Davis, Gus Little

Incoming freshmen: Brett Shepherd, Antoine Brooks (Neither will be on campus until August.)

The overview

Maryland's linebackers were hit hard by injuries in 2015. With projected outside linebacker starters Abner Logan and Jefferson Ashiru both going down, middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. stepped up as a leader for Maryland's defense. He led the team in tackles and was second in tackles for loss, trailing only sack-master Yannick Ngakoue in the latter category. Combining Carter with a healthy Logan and Jalen Brooks could help the team strive toward having a deep front seven, which it will need - next year's secondary should skew pretty young and inexperienced. Adding to that will be Virginia Tech transfer Melvin Keihn, who sat out 2015 per NCAA rules. Keihn has three years of eligibility left, and should be a starter by 2017. Even if he doesn't start in 2016, he'll certainly receive playing time. It's unclear if Ashiru will receive a medical redshirt, but he'll compete for a starting spot as well if he's back. (He probably won't be.)

Maryland thought it had a big piece for the future in Good Counsel linebacker Keandre Jones, but he ended up flipping his commitment from the Terps to Ohio State. Yeah, we don't have to talk about it.

Position battles

Whos's starting at outside linebacker?

With Brooks, Logan an Keihn all competing for two spots, Maryland should be in good hands for next season. Still, it's not abundantly clear who would earn the two starting spots out of these four. It'll be interesting to see how much those starting spots matter - will the starters get significantly more snaps, or will they split time close-to-evenly with the top reserves? We should at least get hints as to the answer to that question this spring.

Key question

Can Jermaine Carter Jr. become the new face of Maryland's defense?

If not for Ngkaoue's incredible breakout season, Carter could have drawn some more attention for his standout play in 2015. He should lead the team in tackles again and was on the leadership council last year, so he could hear his name called as often as cornerback Will Likely, who teams may very well avoid completely in 2016 by targeting the rest of what will be a young secondary.

Breakout player

Melvin Keihn

Keihn was a high three-star recruit out of Baltimore, and possesses the physical tools to be an impact player for Scott Shafer's Maryland defense. He's a strong pass-rusher, and Maryland needs to replace some of the production lost in Yannick Ngakoue's absence.

Spring depth chart projection

OLB ILB OLB
1st unit Jalen Brooks Jermaine Carter Abner Logan
2nd unit Melvin Keihn Tyler Burke Brett Zanotto