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The Ideal Defensive Recruit

This is the third article in our “Where Recruits Come From” series. Two weeks ago, we looked at which coaches do the recruiting for the Maryland Terrapins football program, and what regions they are assigned to recruit across the country. Last week, we looked at what the ideal offensive recruit looks like at each position, while also profiling the top recruiting target at each position for the class of 2016. This week, we’ll check out what the ideal defensive recruit looks like at each position in the Terrapins’ new 4-3 defensive scheme.

(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)

Defensive End

Projected 2015 Starters: Jesse Aniebonam, Yannick Ngakoue
Top 2016 Target: Brandon Bowen (Trophy Club, TX)

With the Maryland Terrapins moving to a brand new 4-3 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski, the defensive end position is a whole lot more important. In Brian Stewart’s old 3-4 defensive scheme, defensive ends were mostly relied upon to set the edge when the opposing offense ran the ball. In Dudzinski’s system, defensive ends will be the team’s primary pass-rushers. Jesse Aniebonam and Yannick Ngakoue both saw playing time last season at outside linebacker, but their skill-sets are more well-suited for defensive end. Their pure ability to rush the passer was a big reason why Randy Edsall elected to switch to an even-front defensive scheme.

Because of the linebacker depth that Edsall and his staff have built over the past few years, the defensive end position is now very deep. Behind Aniebonam and Ngakoue are some very talented young players who have made the switch from outside linebackers to defensive ends. Defensive tackles are higher on Maryland’s recruiting priority list for the Class of 2016, but the team is targeting 4-star defensive end Brandon Bowen from the state of Texas. While the State of Texas is known for its athletes, it also features its share of defensive talent. Keenan McCardell’s extensive connections in the state have already led to immediate recruiting gains from the South. Bowen is considered to be very high on Baylor, but there are plenty of teams (including Maryland) who are very much in the mix for his commitment. The Terrapins will continue to recruit Texas heavily for defensive players, but will also tap other states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.

Defensive Tackle

Projected 2015 Starters: Quinton Jefferson, Adam McLean
Top 2016 Target: Ellison Jordan (Baltimore, MD)

In Dudzinski’s new 4-3 defensive system, the defensive tackle position doesn’t necessarily become less important, but the roles of the position have changed just a bit. It is yet to be seen what front the Terrapins will base their defense out of, but I’d expect it to be either an “under” or an “over” front. Both of these fronts feature a nose tackle and a defensive tackle on the interior of the line, which will likely match up better with the team’s personnel after switching over from a 3-4 scheme. In Stewart’s system, there was just one defensive tackle: the nose tackle. This player was relied upon to play two gaps in the offensive line, and to be the team’s primary interior run-stopper. In Dudzinski’s new 4-3 system, the defensive tackles will still primarily stop the run, but will only be given one gap to play in the offensive line. However, they will also be expected to rush the passer a bit more than they were in Stewart’s system.

I expect Quinton Jefferson to move easily into one of the team’s defensive tackle positions after spending time at the weak-side defensive end position in Stewart’s 3-4 system. He has good run-stopping abilities while also possessing some quickness and ability to get to the quarterback. I also expect Adam McLean to wind up starting at nose tackle in his true freshman season in College Park. His size and quickness make him a perfect fit for that position in Dudzinski’s scheme. Interior defensive lineman are certainly a recruiting priority for Edsall and his staff this off-season, and they have targeted 4-star defensive tackle Ellison Jordan in the class of 2016. Jordan is another very talented player from The Gilman School in nearby Baltimore, and is already very high on the Terrapins. While Penn State and Virginia Tech are making hard pushes for his commitment, Maryland is in a very good spot. Similarly to defensive ends, outside of the DMV area, the Terrapins tend to recruit Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio for defensive linemen.

Outside Linebacker

Projected 2015 Starters: Jalen Brooks, Abner Logan
Top 2016 Target: Keandre Jones (Olney, MD)

Just like the defensive end and defensive tackle positions, the outside linebacker spot will feature new goals and responsibilities in Dudzinski’s new 4-3 defensive scheme. In Stewart’s old 3-4 system, the outside linebackers were the primary pass-rushers. It is for this reason that most of Maryland’s outside linebackers have moved down to defensive end in 2015. In a 4-3 defensive system, the outside linebackers are relied upon primarily to cover tight ends, running backs, and slot receivers. It is for this reason that they are normally quicker and smaller-bodied than 3-4 outside linebackers. Many times, 4-3 defenses will use their strong-side linebacker as an extension of the defensive backfield, while their weak-side linebacker plays the running game a bit more.

I expect Jalen Brooks and Abner Logan to take over both starting outside linebacker spots for the Terrapins in 2015. Both have solid starting experience, and are very good in coverage. I would also expect both of them to slim down just a bit in order to be able to cover running backs and slot receivers a little better. Brooks played the weak-side linebacker position for Maryland last season when Matt Robinson was injured, and Logan saw a good amount of playing time at inside linebacker. I’d expect Logan to be the team’s weak-side linebacker, while Brooks takes the strong-side spot. The Terrapins have already locked up their top outside linebacker target for the class of 2016. Keandre Jones from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School committed to Maryland very early. The Terrapins now have their eyes on Keith Simms from Bethesda as their next outside linebacker recruit in 2016. Many of Maryland’s linebacker recruits come from the DMV area, but they usually also look into Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio for their other recruits.

Inside Linebacker

Projected 2015 Starter: Jermaine Carter, Jr.
Top 2016 Target: Brendan Ferns (Saint Clairsville, OH)

While many other defensive positions are getting new responsibilities in the new 4-3 defensive system, the inside linebacker spot is relatively similar to what is was in Stewart’s 3-4 scheme. The primary responsibility of the inside linebacker this season is to stop the run, much as it was last season. The main difference is that there is just one inside linebacker this season. The inside linebacker this season will also be relied upon less in pass coverage, as those duties are being handled primarily by the outside linebackers and the defensive backs.

Jermaine Carter, Jr. is a perfect fit for the inside linebacker spot in 2015. He has bulked up in a big way since coming to College Park as a member of the class of 2013, and is now a massive 6’0″, 240 pounds. He played in all of the Terrapins’ games last season, and is ready to take over a starting role on Dudzinski’s defense. The team’s top inside linebacker target for the class of 2016 is 4-star Brendan Ferns from Ohio. 247Sports ranks him as the 2nd-best inside linebacker in the class. Unfortunately for Maryland, Ohio State is making a big push for his commitment. The Terrapins seem to be on the outside looking in, as Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan duke it out for him. Like most of the positions among the Front 7, Maryland tends to look into Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio for inside linebacker recruits when they stray from the DMV area.

Cornerback

Projected 2015 Starters: Sean Davis, William Likely
Top 2016 Target: Damar Hamlin (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cornerback is a very important position for MD on the field, and in-terms of 2016 recruiting for Coach Edsall’s staff. When the Terrapins were without a defensive back coach earlier this spring, Edsall took over as the interim coach until he found a replacement. The Maryland coaching staff has been trending towards recruiting larger CBs over the past few years, a trend that has been occurring across college football in large part due to the success that the Seattle Seahawks have had with their larger CBs in the NFL. Naturally, William Likely was too good to pass up, even at 5’7″, but most of Maryland’s CBs stand about 6 feet tall. Edsall likes an aggressive front seven, often leaving his CBs in one-on-one coverage with opposing wide receivers and tight ends. It is for this reason that Terrapin CBs must be excellent in coverage, and be solid tacklers.

William Likely and Sean Davis will be the team’s starting CBs in 2015, after injuries decimated the CB unit in 2013 and 2014. Davis played the last few games of the season at CB after spending his previous time at safety. He performed very well in that short stint, showing enough for the coaching staff to move him to corner permanently in 2015. 4-star Damar Hamlin is the Terrapins’ top CB target in the 2016 class, but he seems to be leaning heavily towards Penn State. He fits the larger CB mold that Maryland tends to prefer, coming in at 6’1″, 175 pounds, but is also being recruited heavily by Clemson, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia. Edsall and his coaching staff tend to look first to the DMV area to recruit CB, before moving into Florida, New Jersey, and Texas for out-of-state recruits.

Safety

Projected 2015 Starters: A.J. Hendy, Anthony Nixon
Top 2016 Target: Chris Brown (Houston, TX)

Like CB, safety is another very important position for an Edsall-coached team. The Terrapins don’t tend to use “free” or “strong” to define their safeties, instead rotating both of them into various roles on their defense. Last season, Anthony Nixon played more of a “free” safety’s role, with Sean Davis and Zach Dancel playing the “strong” safety, but they still shared the majority of the duties in the defensive backfield. This season, Nixon will team up with A.J. Hendy to take care of both safety spots for Dudzinski’s defense. Once again, I’d expect both players to share many of the duties assigned to them, but Nixon will likely play more of a “free” safety’s role, while Hendy plays more of a “strong” safety position.

3-star Chris Brown is the team’s top safety target in the 2016 class. He hails from Houston, and is being recruited by wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell as part of his effort to break into Texas to grab some recruits for the Terrapins. Brown isn’t being heavily recruited by anyone, but has received scholarship offers from Duke, Houston, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue. This is the type of player that Maryland wants to target in Texas. Brown is not getting much attention at all from the schools in the state, with Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M showing just a tiny bit of interest without offering him a scholarship. In talent-laden states like Texas, talented 3-star recruits like Brown often fall to out-of-state schools. Other than Texas and the DMV area, the Terrapins often look to New Jersey and Florida for their other safety targets.

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