Terps' defense needs to catch up with offense

August 23, 2011|By BRETT NIEVES | Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — University of Maryland football head coach Randy Edsall said at the Terps’ annual media day on Aug. 16 that the offense had progressed faster than the defense.

Edsall, a defensive-minded coach, who was Georgia Tech’s defensive coordinator in 1998, said he knows what his defense is capable of and knows what the unit needs to do to be successful.

“(The defensive players) have to go out there and execute the assignment that they are given,” Edsall said. “And when we do that, we’re good. But when we don’t, then we’re not as good and as productive as we can be.”

Maryland lost its defensive coordinator of two years, Don Brown, to, ironically enough, Connecticut — Edsall’s former school — this past offseason.

Edsall brought in Southern Mississippi’s defensive coordinator, Todd Bradford, to run Maryland’s defense this season. Bradford said he is looking forward to working with the Terps, especially the multitude of seasoned players he inherits.

“They know what they can do, they understand the game and you can’t ever replace that experience those guys have in the games, as you do in practice,” Bradford said.

Perhaps the most experienced player on defense is senior linebacker Kenny Tate.

Tate has gone through several position changes during his time in College Park. He started his career as a wide receiver but then switched to safety — a position he flourished at last season. Tate was second on the team in tackles (100) and sacks (3.5), and tied for first in interceptions (3) in 2010. This season, Edsall moved Tate to the “star” position, which is a hybrid between linebacker and safety.

“This transition has been easy, I mean it’s football,” Tate said. “It hasn’t been hard or difficult or anything like that. I’ve been playing with these guys, I know my team, I know who’s around me.”

The linebacker corps underwent another change this offseason as junior Demetrius Hartsfield moved from weak-side linebacker to the middle. Hartsfield was third on the team in tackles last season with 88, including a team-high six for loss. He has to fill the void three-time All-ACC selection Alex Wujciak leaves in the middle. Wujciak led the Terps the past three seasons in tackles — eclipsing the 100-tackle mark from 2008-10.

Hartsfield will be pushed for some playing time by redshirt freshman Lorne Goree, who has impressed during preseason camp.

“Right now, Goree is the backup at (middle) and, again, it’s a matter of being consistent,” Edsall said. “If he can be consistent, to me, he could put some pressure on Hartsfield.”

Up front, Maryland is led by junior defensive tackle Joe Vellano. He had his breakout game in 2010 in the season-opening 17-14 win over Navy. Vellano recorded 10 tackles — three for loss, including two sacks — in the contest. He led the team with five sacks was second in tackles for loss (5.5) with five. Even with the change in coordinators, Vellano said he understands what needs to be done defensively.

“There’s a lot of similarities (between Brown’s and Bradford’s schemes), not that many differences,” Vellano said. “There’s some different lineman techniques, but you still have to go out there and stop the run and defend the pass.”

There will be some fresh faces in the Maryland secondary, along with some familiar ones. Senior cornerback Cameron Chism returns to lead the secondary. Chism had a team-leading eight pass breakups last season and might have a committee of running mates at the other corner spot.

Senior Trenton Hughes is the incumbent, but sophomore Dexter McDougal will be afforded some playing time this season, if not a starting role.

“Dexter has the ability to be a really good corner,” Edsall said. “But we just have to get him to be more conscious of where his eyes go, the technique and the leverage he has to keep on people. Dexter is a guy we’re going to count on quite heavily.”

The true safety positions will need some consistent play out of sophomore Matt Robinson and junior Eric Franklin since Tate will be lining up closer to the line of scrimmage this season.

“I think both of those guys have a chance to be very good players,” Bradford said. “They’re very, very smart, they’re athletic, they’re tough and that position kind of requires those guys to take on a leadership role. We’ve talked in meetings and we expect more out of them from a leadership standpoint.”

Maryland’s defense still has time to grow as whole before the season and conference opener against Miami on Labor Day night. The Hurricanes may be without quarterback Jacory Harris and receiver Travis Benjamin, among others, due to the recent probe into Miami’s athletics that’s been unearthed. Regardless, the Terps will have to prepare for a ‘Canes team at full strength because first-year head coach Al Golden will be looking to get a leg up in the ACC right off the bat, just like Edsall will be hoping to do with Maryland.

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