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Terps' Varner enjoying the island life

September 01, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Football will be like sailing on Gilligan's SS Minnow for Christian Varner.

This year, the University of Maryland safety will find himself on a three-hour tour on an island every Saturday the Terrapins play football.

"The key is if we will be able to cover our men," Varner admitted as Maryland prepares to open the season Saturday with a 6 p.m. game with William & Mary at Byrd Stadium.

"With everyone up defending the run, we are going to be out on an island. We will have to hold our own. It will all come down to how good we are in the secondary."

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Varner and the rest of Maryland's secondary will be traveling a lot during the season under the Terps' revamped alignment.

When they aren't on an island, they will be in a box. But they will never be stuck in the middle.

Maryland is changing from what used to be a traditional 5-3 alignment - five linemen and three linebackers - to more of a 4-4 set.

"I love this defense. It has structure," Varner said. "It allows us to take our game and go to another level. It takes away having to stand there and read things. We can be more aggressive. There is less thinking and more reacting because we just have certain assignments. There is no gray area."

The Terps' new attack has been widely accepted by the players.

Gone is the need for one central player to be the focal point of stopping the other team. In coach Ralph Friedgen's first five seasons at Maryland, he had middle linebackers E.J. Henderson and D'Qwell Jackson as the focal points.

Defensive players were used to take on and occupy the offense to create lanes for Henderson and Jackson to make the hits.

Now, running backs are fair game for everyone.

"It's changed some. We are doing a lot more against the run," Varner said. "The defense is moving all the safeties up into the box. We are becoming more involved. There is no gray area."

The box is the 3-to-5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Offenses usually count the number of defensive players in the box to determine whether it is better to run or pass in situations. The fewer defensive players in the box, the more likely it is for a successful run.

Basically, Maryland will be looking to put more pressure on opposing teams to prevent the run while challenging them to pass the ball.

That will force Varner and the secondary to be on the ball in so many different ways.

"We all took a liking to it," Varner said. "It makes it so the defense isn't the job of one person. All of us have a job to do. Now, one person takes on the block, the next gets over to make the hit and we all get over to the ball."

Pressure will be the key. And if the Terps are constantly turning it up on the defense, it will prevent guys like Christian Varner from feeling like castaways.

"I love it," Varner said. "I love to hit and I love to be in the box. I love being in the action. I hate being away from it."

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