Project 2014: The Linebackers
Image Credit: UMTerps
In Brian Stewart’s 3-4 defensive system, linebackers are probably the most important players on the field. They must be able to rush the passer, stop the run, and cover the pass. Compared to linebackers in a 4-3 system, they have much greater responsibilities and must each be able to do a very wide variety of things. The 3-4 system is favored by coaches who use it because it creates uncertainty for an offense. In a 4-3 system, you normally know which four players are rushing the quarterback, but in a 3-4 system you can add that fourth rusher from one of four positions. Over the past few years, some of the best defenses in the NFL have used the 3-4 system, and Nick Saban has long been a fan of it at Alabama. The biggest thing you need for this system is solid linebackers, and the Terps certainly have a lot of those this season.
2013 Sacks Rank: 18th (2.85 sacks/game)
2013 Rush Defense Rank: 45th (149.3 yards/game)
2013 Pass Defense Rank: 57th (225.1 yards/game)
2013 Red Zone Defense Rank: 115th (90.6% scoring)
2013 Total Defense Rank: 44th (374.4 yards/game)
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Cole Farrand – Senior
2013 Statistics: 84 tackles (4.5 for loss), 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 0 interceptions
One of the biggest leaders on this Maryland team, Cole Farrand has made quite a name for himself in College Park. He has been starting at inside linebacker since his sophomore season, and will start there again in 2014 alongside fellow senior L.A. Goree. He is also one of the toughest players on this team, and showed that against Virginia Tech when he essentially finished the game with one arm. He is a perfect inside linebacker for Brian Stewart’s 3-4 system, as he is a great leader and a solid run stopper. His senior season may attract a few NFL scouts, as it seems that each and every game he plays is another tackling clinic. His legacy at Maryland can only grow with the 2014 season.
Matt Robinson – Redshirt Senior
2013 Statistics: 73 tackles (10.0 for loss), 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 0 interceptions
After the 2012 season, Robinson moved from strong safety to outside linebacker and did extremely well with the change. He set the edge well on running plays, rushed the passer well, and did what he had always done well, cover passes. He surprised many people with how well-rounded his play was immediately after the change, which credits the coaching staff and his work ethic. When Kenneth Tate moved from safety to linebacker a few years ago, it wasn’t the smoothest transition. He wasn’t exactly built for linebacker, but couldn’t move well enough after his injury to play safety. Of course, Robinson wasn’t moved from safety to linebacker due to an inability to play safety, but because the coaching staff believed his skills would simply be better suited for linebacker. His senior season will see him starting on the weak side, and he is another player who could possibly attract some NFL scouts with his play.
L.A. Goree – Redshirt Senior
2013 Statistics: 76 tackles (4.5 for loss), 1.0 sack, 1 forced fumble, 0 interceptions
It seems like just yesterday that L.A. Goree was starting at linebacker as a redshirt freshman in 2011. He showed a ton of promise that season, and was named an honorable mention for the freshman All-American team by College Football News. Three years later, he will be starting at inside linebacker for the second straight season in College Park. He played very well alongside Cole Farrand in 2013, and proved to be a very solid inside linebacker in Brian Stewart’s 3-4 defensive system. He is called upon to drop back in coverage more than Farrand, which is natural since Goree is a bit smaller and quicker (he started his career at outside linebacker). He’ll start alongside Cole Farrand at inside linebacker in 2014, and will be a big part of what should be a very solid linebacking corps for the Terps.
Alex Twine – Senior
2013 Statistics: 49 tackles (2.5 for loss), 0.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 0 interceptions
Much like L.A. Goree, Alex Twine started his career in College Park in 2011, where he started four games for the Terps. He has never started a full season for the team, but has always been a quality backup who receives a good amount of playing time. He started his career as an inside linebacker, but ended up moving to outside linebacker, the opposite path of L.A. Goree. He backed up Matt Robinson at weak-side linebacker last season, and will do so again this season as a senior. He’ll also get a good amount of playing time on special teams, as his tackling abilities make him valuable there. He’ll be part of a very big graduating defensive class for the Terps this season.
Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil – Redshirt Senior
2013 Statistics: 18 tackles (3.5 for loss), 3.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 1 interception
After suffering a season-ending injury in 2013, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil is ready to make a name for himself in College Park in 2014. He was a huge bright spot for the team last season before his injury, racking up 3 sacks and an interception in just over 5 games as a backup to Marcus Whitfield. He’ll be given a chance to show what he can do as a starter this season, as Whitfield has graduated. He is a great all-around linebacker, but his specialty comes in wreaking havoc in opposing team’s backfields. He has a great motor, and is always going full-speed, both in games and in practices. He’ll likely compete for the starting strong-side linebacker job with Yannick Ngakoue, the 4-star recruit who became Whitfield’s backup when Cudjoe-Virgil went down last season. I’d expect both to receive a good amount of playing time, but for Cudjoe-Virgil to get the starting job.
Yannick Ngakoue – Sophomore
2013 Statistics: 10 tackles (4.5 for loss), 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception
The Terps’ biggest prize from the 2013 National Signing Day, 4-star linebacker Yannick Ngakoue played a decent role for the team last season. He was buried on the depth chart at strong-side linebacker to begin the season behind both Marcus Whitfield and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil. But after Cudjoe-Virgil went down for the season in early October, Ngakoue’s role increased by a lot. He is known as a very good pass rusher, so the strong-side spot fits him very well. He is a bigger guy at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, but is agile enough to handle the outside linebacker spot. He still needs to work on his pass coverage a bit, but he is solid enough to get a decent amount of playing time immediately. There is a chance that he could move inside eventually, but for now he’ll compete for the starting strong-side linebacker spot with Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil. Whether he wins the job or not, he should see plenty of playing time.
Abner Logan – Redshirt Sophomore
2013 Statistics: 37 tackles (2.0 for loss), 0.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 interceptions
A 4-star recruit himself, Abner Logan spent all of last season as L.A. Goree’s backup at inside linebacker. A better pass-coverage linebacker than a few of the other options at inside linebacker, he occasionally played in nickel situations. He is a very quick player who is working to bulk up a bit to stay at inside linebacker. He has upped his weight to 235 pounds this season, which should really help him in the middle of a Big Ten defense. He is on track to become a starter at L.A. Goree’s old position when he graduates, and should be a solid player for the Terps in his Junior and Senior years.
Cavon Walker – Sophomore
2013 Statistics: 9 tackles (0.0 for loss), 0.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 interceptions
A player who saw most of his playing time come on special teams last season, Cavon Walker projects to do more of the same in 2014. He will certainly be given a chance to climb the depth chart in spring and fall practices, but his chance to contribute on the defensive side of the ball will likely come in 2015, when most of the 2014 starters have graduated. He certainly has the skills to succeed on Brian Stewart’s unit, and should slot in at one of the two outside linebacker spots. His pass-coverage skills are good, and he should continue to work on bulking up and tackling this off-season.
Jermaine Carter, Jr. – Redshirt Freshman
2013 Statistics: N/A
Carter is another player who should see his time to contribute defensively in 2015. He slots in at inside linebacker, and has a good chance to see a lot of playing time in 2015 along with Abner Logan. He redshirted last season, and did well in practice, earning scout team honors in 3 of the weeks leading up to games. He brings a diverse range of skills to the position, and should be able to take over either inside linebacker spot when the depth chart opens up.
Jalen Brooks – Redshirt Freshman
2013 Statistics: N/A
The highly intelligent Brooks, who was shown interest from such schools as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, spent last season as a redshirt year, preparing him for a possible special teams role in 2014. He is a hard worker and obviously very smart, which should help him stand out among a large group of linebackers in College Park. He probably fits well at outside linebacker, where he can use his agility and quickness. Brooks also wrestled in high school, a testament his toughness. 2014 will likely see him on special teams, but his chance to compete for playing time will come in 2015, when most of the linebackers at the top of the depth chart will have graduated.
Jesse Aniebonam – Freshman
2013 Statistics: N/A
One of the best recruits for Randy Edsall and his staff this season, the 4-star Aniebonam will come to College Park this fall ready to make an impact. He was listed by most recruiting services as a defensive end, but will play a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position for Brian Stewart in his defense. He’ll slot in at weak-side linebacker behind Matt Robinson and Alex Twine in 2014, but should be able to grab the starting spot at that position in 2015 when both of those players graduate. He is an excellent pass-rusher, so a spot on the outside in a 3-4 system is perfect for him. He should be able to set the edge well on outside runs, but his pass coverage could use a bit of work. That’s what he needs to work on most between now and 2015, as moving from defensive end to linebacker can be a bit of an adjustment. But I project him to start on the weak side in 2015, while spending 2014 in situational roles or as a redshirt season.
Nnamdi Egbuaba – Freshman
2013 Statistics: N/A
New to both College Park and to the United States, Egbuaba will have a large task ahead of him in 2014. Hailing from a small village in Nigeria, he has one of the best stories in all of college football. He was discovered in 2011 by former Terps linebacker/fullback Ricardo Dickerson at a camp in Nigeria. Egbuaba quickly learned the sport well enough to become a 3-star recruit at outside linebacker. He is extremely fast for a linebacker, clocking a 4.52 second 40-yard dash. That speed will really help him match up well against slot receivers and rush the passer, but will need to bulk up enough to set the edge on outside running plays. He is a work in progress, and likely won’t see much of the field for a few years. But he has the potential to be a solid player at this level and add a lot of speed to the Terps’ defense.