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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Defensive changes at Maryland challenging and welcome

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There have been "some heated times" this spring between Maryland's two competitive coordinators, but don't mistake that for animosity -- James Franklin and first-year defensive coordinator Don Brown get along well.

But Brown, who spent the past five seasons as head coach at Massachusetts, hasn't wasted any time making life difficult for an ACC offense.

It just happens to be Maryland's.

"Let me say this," Franklin said, "I think Don Brown is the single best hire that Ralph Friedgen has made since he's been here eight years. I think he's going to bring a mentality, he's extremely competitive, he's extremely aggressive. I can't wait until spring ball and camp is over so we can get back on the same team. During spring we're going after each other. We're both very competitive. We've had some heated times just because we're both competitors."

Brown, who was hired when Chris Cosh left for the same position at Kansas State, has implemented a new scheme this spring, and those within the program seem to agree it's a refreshing yet challenging change.

Transition is nothing new for this defense, which introduced Brown as its third coordinator in five seasons. The hopes in College Park are that Brown's aggressive style -- even though it has the potential to give up a few big plays -- will create far more momentum-changing plays and opportunities for the offense. Brown knows his system's strengths, but he also knows how to hide its weaknesses.

This spring, he has installed five fronts, seven different coverages, and about 16 different blitzes.

"What we've tried to do is throw as much scheme and concepts at them as we can, get it on tape, so we can utilize it for teaching purposes for the fall," said Brown, whose Minutemen reached the 2006 FCS championship game. "We threw as much as we could at them at a fast pace so when they come back in the fall they'll hear it for the second time. Hopefully it will be a lot of recall for them.

"I'm totally pleased with their effort, their energy, their focus and determination. I think we're very talented at wide receiver, so we've asked our corners to play a lot on the island. I think they've done a solid job. That will give some flexibility in what we do up front."

One of the biggest differences fans might notice is the man coverage required of the corners, who are coached by Brown. It was an aspect of his philosophy that had Friedgen a little leery during the hiring process because he didn't think his defensive backs were confident enough to match up one-on-one.

Not only has Brown helped change that mentality, but he has also begun to help recruit athletes with length, as he's looking for fast, quick-twitch cornerbacks who can jump and are either around 6-foot-1, or a bit shorter with longer arms.

"I was concerned whether we could do that, whether we had people to do that, because quite honestly, I thought our guys weren't very confident when we got in man-to-man situations last year," Friedgen said. "We didn't play a lot of man-to-man because we were concerned about that. Now we've gotten to where we're challenging every throw. The thing I see that's getting better from both sides is very few uncontested throws now. So the quarterbacks, in order to complete a pass, have to throw the ball very accurately, and the receivers now gotta go up and fight to make plays. And it's a battle every play."

The staff is confident it can rely on four safeties -- Terrell Skinner, Antwine Perez, Jamari McCollough and Kenny Tate -- and Brown has been particularly pleased with the way cornerbacks Anthony Wiseman and Nolan Carroll have been challenging receivers. The goal is to have their talents help create some matchup problems up front.

"You're going to see a lot more pressure, and you're going to see a lot more people being challenged, a lot of guys one-on-one on the island," Friedgen said. "I think Don does a great job of teaching press coverage."

The goal of press man coverage is to disrupt the timing and give the rush time to get to the quarterback. This spring, Maryland's defense has been given 2.5 seconds to get to the quarterback.

"Our corners are playing man coverage," said senior Jared Harrell, who is learning his third scheme. "We don't want them running all over the field because then we can get into some trouble. Our goal is to get there and get there fast.

"Our front seven is going to provide a lot of pressure and give our defense a different feel, a different emotion to it than we've had in the past few years. We'll bring a lot more pressure and get guys more involved, it's more intense."

Just ask quarterback Chris Turner, who threw four interceptions and was "sacked" eight times in the first scrimmage. (Most of those sacks wouldn't have counted in a real game, though, and the Terps' offensive line is a work in progress).

"All spring we've been working on our deep balls a lot, it's one of the ways to beat man coverage," Turner said. "You need to be very precise with your timing with your receivers, and be on the same page, starting with the o-line, receivers and me. It's been a process, and a lot of extra work done off the field.

"I can sit here and say that's probably the biggest benefit of it. It's kept me very sharp. It's a different way of looking at defenses. It's been very good."