Seven Maryland LBs have started a game
On the injury-depleted defense of the Maryland Terrapins last year, Lorne Goree, Alex Twine and Marcus Whitfield got more playing time than expected.
It was an at-times rough indoctrination for the trio, all from the Maryland suburbs. But the upside of their force feeding is an extraordinarily experienced crew of linebackers this fall. In all, seven Terps linebackers have started college games.
Seniors Demetrius Hartsfield (29 starts) and Kenny Tate (21 starts) have been in the lineup since 2009. Senior Darin Drakeford (eight starts) took over a starting job last year. When each spent time on the sidelines last fall, it forced Goree (seven starts) and Twine (four starts) to play as freshmen. Injuries at defensive end got Whitfield (five starts) into the lineup as a sophomore.
"I feel like we're really underrated as a linebacking corps," Hartsfield said. "A lot of guys have started multiple games. Even a guy who hasn't, like [sophomore] Cole Farrand, is really coming on."
Due in part to the talent and experience at linebacker, Maryland coach Randy Edsall felt comfortable shifting the Terps from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. Hartsfield and Goree play inside. Tate and Drakeford patrol the outside, with Whitfield and Twine backing them up.
"When you just take a look at our personnel, I think we're better suited to do the things that we want to do defensively," Edsall said. "[The 3-4] puts us in the best position schematically to utilize their skill set to the best of their ability but also gets our best players on the field."
Twine is an example of how accelerated progression can pay dividends. At age 17 last fall, he was a prime candidate for a redshirt. But he was needed on the field and responded with 39 tackles in his four starts. This preseason, Edsall has been impressed.
"You can tell that he played last year. He's out here playing so much faster and much more aggressive than what he was a year ago," Edsall said. "The game slows down for you because you understand it better, and you know what you're doing."
The linebackers sound excited about a switch to the 3-4. Twine (Quince Orchard) says it allows the outside linebackers to be more aggressive.
"You're always on the line, and you're always going to make contact with people," Twine said. "You're not waiting and reading. You're on the line. You're setting the edge. They run off you."
On the inside, Hartsfield plays the "Mo" while Goree and Farrand are listed as co-starters at the "Mike." Of the two positions, Hartsfield gets to have more fun, freed up from the heavy responsibilities he had last year as the middle linebacker.
"The Mo is more of a freelance, run sideline-to-sideline guy," Hartsfield said. "The Mike is more of a downhill-type linebacker, similar to a traditional middle linebacker."
After ranking last in the ACC and 108th in total defense in the FBS, Maryland is counting on its linebackers to key a major turnaround in 2012.
"We paid for that a little bit last year," Edsall said of having to play so many inexperienced linebackers. "But now that's going to end up paying off for us."