The Terps defense will have a new look in the 2015 season, converting to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator and former linebacker coach Keith Dudzinski. The defensive line will have some major holes to fill with the departures of Darius Kilgo, Keith Bowers, and Andre Monroe (Maryland’s career sacks leader). The three combined for 14 sacks (10.5 from Monroe) and 144 tackles last season.
To replace what the Terps have lost at the position, there will be a mix of veteran and inexperienced talent to fill the voids. The defensive line will also have some intriguing position battles leading up to and throughout the season.
Here are some of the names we can expect to see on Dudzinski’s defensive line next season.
(Discuss on the BSL board here)
Quinton Jefferson, DT Senior
2014: 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 sack
2013: 47 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble
2012: 13 tackles, .5 tackles for loss, 2 fumbles and 1 forced fumble
Jefferson will be the most experienced player on the Terps’ defensive line and will be the anchor in the middle. His 2014 season was cut short following a season-ending torn ACL in the loss to West Virginia. He will return for his senior season and will be relied on as the veteran of the front four.
Jefferson returning from the ACL injury and how he responds will be a storyline to watch throughout the season. During his recovery process, Jefferson spent time helping his younger teammates through spring practice while also studying film to improve his own play. Aside from his play on the field, his leadership with several of the younger players might be the most important thing for the defense moving forward.
It is likely Jefferson’s season will be look better on film than on the stat sheet. He might not rack up the tackles and sacks, but if he can help stuff the middle for the linebackers, Jefferson’s season will be a success.
Yannick Ngakoue, DE Junior
2014: 37 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks and 1 forced fumble
2013: 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble
Ngakoue is the most intriguing piece for the Terps’ defensive line next season. 2014 was a breakout season for Ngakoue, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. His speed and ability on the edge should result in more disruptive plays in the backfield next season.
Ngakoue was second on the team in tackles for loss last season with 13.5, with three coming against West Virginia. He recorded a career-high five tackles against James Madison. He was also key on defense in the Terps win over Penn State with three tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.
After losing so much up front, Ngakoue should slide in and be the defensive stand out next season. He is the best candidate to replace the sack value that is gone from Monroe. His ability to get in the backfield will be the most important part to the Terps’ pass rush next season.
Jesse Aniebonam, DE Sophomore
2014: 14 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss and .5 sack
One of the prized recruits from the 2014 class, Aniebonam will be competing for a starting position in his second year with the Terps. Following the change to a 4-3 defense, he will move from outside linebacker to defensive end. Though it will be a different position for him, Aniebonam’s skillset is suited for an end rush.
Aniebonam played in all 13 games last season as a freshman and really showed flashes that he could be a special player for the Terps. He made a career-high three tackles against Iowa and Wisconsin.
Based on his performance last season, Aniebonam will come as advertised out of high school. He will be in position next season to make a significant jump and become an elite player on the Terps’ defense.
Roman Braglio, DE Junior
2014: 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and 1 fumble recovery
2013: 6 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks
Braglio appeared in all 13 games last season for the Terps, including one start against Michigan. Being on the edge of the new 4-3 defense, Braglio will be fighting for a starting position next season. With his third year in the system, his experience will work in his favor when it comes to battling for a starting job.
When watching film, Braglio’s play doesn’t really jump off the screen, but he has the ability to be a solid player for the Terps. He tallied two tackles in the Foster Farms Bowl against Stanford and against West Virginia.
Braglio’s best opportunity to start next season will be by out dueling Aniebonam. As mentioned, he has an extra year of experience on Aniebonam and has played in more games. If there is a need, he could slide to one of the defensive tackle positions. The second defensive end position opposite Ngakoue could be the most intriguing battle on the defensive line next season.
David Shaw, DT Sophomore
2014: 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 sack
Shaw will be competing for the second starting defensive tackle position, opposite of Jefferson. A big body at 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds, Shaw takes up a lot of space in the middle of the Terps line. His size and power makes him a strong candidate to earn the starting position entering next season.
Shaw appeared in seven games as a freshman. The Pennsylvania native made his first career start in the Terps’ win at Penn State. He made two of his four tackles in the win over Indiana and assisted on a tackle in the Fosters Farms Bowl.
Aside from Jefferson, there is not much experience at the defensive tackle position for the Terps. His game experience from last year, though minimal, gives him an additional advantage to start opposite Jefferson. He will be a key part to the Terps rush defense in 2015.
Adam McLean, DT Freshman
McLean was a prized commit from the 2015 high school class. The Quince Orchard product originally committed to Penn State, but flipped to Maryland just weeks after the Terps win over the Nittany Lions. The consensus four-star recruit was the second rated player in the state of Maryland and 12th best defensive tackle in the nation.
An Under Armour All-American, McLean was one of the leaders in “The Movement” and it began with his flip to the Terps. McLean is a versatile player in the trenches and will be a physical presence on the defensive line. He is a great wrap up tackler and has a high motor that allows him to be a major factor against the run. McLean is a big body at 6-foot-3, 280 pounds and more room to grow with his physical build.
It is almost certain that McLean will see the field in his freshman season with the Terps. He will have the ability to compete for a starting position, likely with Shaw and really show fans his value in year one. Even if he doesn’t start in the season-opener, it is likely that McLean will start at some point in 2015.
Q&A with Zack and Chris
Q: What is the most intriguing battle you see on the defensive line for next season?
Garman: It appears that two of the four starting spots on the defensive line are seal for Jefferson and Ngakoue, but I’m really intrigued to see McLean battle with Shaw at defensive tackle. Both will see plenty of playing time, but this battle will push both of them consistently throughout the season. Shaw showed good things a season ago and McLean will be a hungry freshman trying to live up to his rating out of his school. I expect Shaw to earn the starting job out of camp and into the season-opener, but McLean will start at least one game throughout the season. With losing so much on the interior of the defensive line, a healthy battle like this could be the best thing for the Terps up front.
Kiesel: The most interesting battle for me comes at defensive tackle. After using a nose tackle for the last few years under Brian Stewart, the team will have to make the transition to using two defensive tackles. Quinton Jefferson figures to move inside and take one of the spots, but it will be very interesting to me to see who grabs that other spot. David Shaw should have the inside track on the job because of the experience he got playing last season, but Adam McLean has an opportunity to get a starting job as a true freshman.
Q: How will the transition from a 3-man to 4-man front impact the defense? What will be affected most?
Garman: The linebackers really seemed to excel in the Stewarts 3-4 defense as the guys up front opened things up for the linebacking corp. I still expect the linebackers to have success, but now the edge rushers will be more important which could be a plus for someone like Ngakoue. I’m not really sure how this will work for the Terps next season because they had success in the old system under Stewart. The turnover from last year’s defense to this year will be difficult enough, but seeing the front four adapt to a new system is intriguing. It makes an experienced veteran guy like Jefferson that much more important.
Kiesel: Whenever you move from a 3-man front to a 4-man front, things change a lot in the front 7. Most of your defensive ends become defensive tackles, and your outside linebackers must become defensive ends. The conversion of these linebackers to defensive ends is the biggest thing that will be impacted by this move. Luckily for Maryland, they’ll have two players making that conversion who played a lot of defensive end in high school. Jesse Aniebonam will start across from Yannick Ngakoue. Both players were considered excellent pass-rushers out of high school, but they needed to improve their coverage skills to become outside linebackers in a 3-4 system. Now, they don’t need to bother with pass coverage. They can simply pin their ears back and rush the passer. These two players are the main reason that Randy Edsall made the switch to a 4-3 scheme, and they will be the keys to the entire defense this season.
Q: What players do you expect to standout on the defensive line next season and why?
Garman: Ngakoue is going to be a star for the Terps defense in 2015. He played so well last year for the Terps and should only get better. His ability off the edge to disrupt plays in the backfield will be key for the Terps. Opposing offensive lines will key on him, but I still expect him to excel through the season.
I also think Aniebonam will have a good season at the other end position. He played well as a freshman and I expect him to make a major jump forward next season. He was a big prospect coming out of college and I think we will get a better glimpse of why he was so highly recruited.
Kiesel: Aniebonam and Ngakoue are the obvious choices here. They’ll be counted on for most of the team’s pass-rush, and if the Spring Game was any indication, the pass-rush will be very good this season. Ngakoue is the more experienced of the two, so I think he’s the one player to watch this season. His explosiveness and quickness off the ball was excellent in that game, and his agility to get around some of Maryland’s bigger offensive linemen was very impressive. If Maryland’s defensive line is to have success this season, it will be because of both of their defensive ends.