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Maryland spring preview

3/2/2015

Maryland enjoyed notable success in its first Big Ten season. Four league wins included victorious trips to Penn State and Michigan. The Terrapins, as spring practice opens in College Park, are set to endure big losses among the defensive front and at play-making positions on the offensive side.

Coach Randy Edsall, entering his fifth season at Maryland, continues to strive to bring an exciting brand of football to the school. The Terps recruit aggressively in a competitive region flush with talent.

This spring marks the start of a season that figures to shed light on the ability of Maryland to keep up with progress in the rising Big Ten East Division. Check out our pre-spring state of the program and position battles.

Schedule: The Terps conduct their first of 15 practices on Wendesday. The Red-White spring game is set for April 11 at Byrd Stadium.

What’s new? Maryland promoted Keith Dudzinski to defensive coordinator in February after his four years as inside linebackers coach. Dudzinski replaces Brian Stewart, who agreed to a mutual parting with Maryland and has resurfaced as Nebraska’s secondary coach. Under Dudzisnki, the Terps will shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive alignment. Terry Richardson arrives from the Jacksonville Jaguars to coach the running backs. Additionally, Maryland will split the coaching duties for its special teams after losing coordinator Andre Powell – who also coached running backs – to Pitt.

Biggest question: Can the Terps build a solid defensive line? Maryland struggled to stop the run in 2014, allowing 201.9 yards per game, 12th in the Big Ten, and 4.5 yards per attempt. Defensive end Andre Monroe, who contributed 10.5 sacks, is gone, along with reliable Darius Kilgo and Keith Bowers. With the scheme shift, the learning curve is more steep than usual, so the Terps must devise a plan that leads to a productive spring for the front four. Former linebackers Yannick Ngakoue and Jesse Aniebonam should stabilize the edge. Elsewhere, a young group shows promise, led by rising junior Roman Braglio, sophomores David Shaw and Kingsley Opara. Junior Quinton Jefferson will be limited in the spring while recovering from injury, and recent signee Oseh Saine is on site and ready for work.

Three things we want to see:

1. Threats emerge at receiver. Senior Marcus Leak returns after making 20 catches in 2014, but he can’t fill the void left by Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who combined for 113 receptions and 1,367 yards. Senior Levern Jacobs and his brother, sophomore Taivon Jacobs, top the list of candidates in addition to sophomore Juwann Winfree. To complicate matters, senior Caleb Rowe, the projected starter at quarterback, continues to rehab from knee surgery, leaving the position this spring to Shane Cockerille and Perry Hills.

2. Youth on the offensive line. Credit the Terps for thinking long term in the decision to redshirt Derwin Gray and Damian Prince, elite recruits out of Washington, D.C., the past two years. Both are redshirt freshmen – after Gray spent 2013 in prep school – and ready to compete to make an impact up front for the Terps. Prince rated as the nation’s No. 3 tackle in the Class of 2014. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Gray is equally imposing.

3. Clarity at linebacker. The new scheme means many shifting parts, notably the move of Ngakoue and Aniebonam to the front. Also gone at linebacker are leading tackler Cole Farrand, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and L.A. Goree. That leaves a lot to replace, and with Dudzinski focused on the entire defense, much falls on the plate of assistant Lyndon Johnson. Names to watch include Jermaine Carter Jr., Jalen Brooks, Cavon Walker and Abner Logan, whose season in 2014 was disrupted by suspension.