NCF Nation: Eric Franklin

Terps' D ready for an upgrade

March, 9, 2012
Of all of the new coaches who have been hired in the ACC this offseason, Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has been tasked with one of the more difficult jobs -- at least on paper.

Stewart inherited the nation’s No. 102 scoring defense (34.25 points per game), No. 111 rushing defense (219.75 yards per game), and No. 108 total defense (457.17 ypg).

“I never look at rankings,” Stewart said. “If you get caught up in the rankings, you can get discouraged, or you can start patting yourself on the back. First of all you have to believe in your system, you look at the people who are going to play in your system, and you look at the guys who are going to teach your system. If you can get those three things to jive, then you’ve got a chance to be successful, and that’s how I look at it.”

Based on what he’s seen this offseason, Stewart said he already has two thirds of the equation solved, as coach Randy Edsall and the other assistants are all on board with switching to a 3-4 scheme. Only when the Terps start spring practices on Saturday, though, will Stewart learn if the players are also buying in. The first few practices will be filled with a lot of installation, and will be pivotal in revealing how quickly the players can learn the scheme and how it’s being taught.

“Once people believe,” Stewart said, “they make it work.”

The good news? The only way for Maryland to go is up.

Stewart will introduce a pressure defense -- not just blitzing on every play and every down, but pressure meaning when the receivers are trying to catch the ball, the defensive backs are in a place where they can contest every catch, and the opposing coordinator and quarterback can’t tell who’s coming and who’s not from the seven players at the line of scrimmage.

Stewart said he has tried to evaluate the skill sets of the players he has inherited as opposed to the previous system they were playing in. Stewart said he was specifically interested in how his defenders fared against Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and West Virginia.

“I look at it every day,” he said, “over and over.”

On Saturday, he’ll finally get his first live look.

Eleven of Maryland’s top 13 tacklers from 2011 return, including linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, who had a team-high 108 tackles, and safety Eric Franklin, who was second with 106. Six of the top seven sack producers from 2011 also return, including Andre Monroe, who had five, the second most by a Maryland freshman in the past nine years. Maryland also welcomes back Joe Vellano, who led the FBS last season in tackles by a defensive lineman with 7.8 per game. A total of 16 defenders have starting experience. It was a young, injury-laden group in 2011 that now faces a much-needed overhaul.

“We just had a defensive meeting [Tuesday] morning and just the way [Stewart] is really upbeat is really good,” Vellano said. “We are really working on getting this defense down and getting that work in off the field as well. We have a lot of new guys in positions to make plays and I think it really just fits us personnel-wise."
Moving on to the safeties …

[+] EnlargeRay-Ray Armstrong
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireRay-Ray Armstrong is among the leaders of a strong Miami secondary.
1. Miami: Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong return, but JoJo Nicolas moved to corner. Even though Armstrong wasn’t a starter last year, he still ranked third on the team with 79 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

2. Florida State: The Seminoles return both starters in Nick Moody and Terrance Parks. Moody had 79 tackles last season and Parks had 44 and six deflections. The group was strengthened with the addition of Lamarcus Joyner, who moved from cornerback and proved this spring he’s capable of being a safety.

3. NC State: The Wolfpack has two of the best in Earl Wolff, the team’s leading tackler last season with 95, and Brandan Bishop, who had 56 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. Dontae Johnson (22 tackles), also returns.

4. Virginia Tech: Eddie Whitley is the lone returning starter, but he should be one of the best in the ACC. Antone Exum, who was the No. 2 free safety last season, moved to rover this spring. He played in every game last season and had five starts when Tech went to its nickel defense.

5. Virginia: The Cavaliers return veteran starters in Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley, who have combined for 41 career starts. Mosley had 52 tackles and two interceptions last season, and McLeod had 54 tackles and four pass breakups. Safety Dom Joseph (34 tackles) also returns.

6. Duke: The Blue Devils return both starters in Matt Daniels and Lee Butler. Daniels, a senior, has started 25 career games and is one of the top returning tacklers in the ACC. Butler had 58 tackles and nine passes defended last season.

7. Boston College: The Eagles return juniors Jim Noel, who had four interceptions in eight starts, and Okechukwu Okoroha, who started the final six games last fall. Noel, Okoroha, and Dominick LeGrande combined for 90 tackles last season.

8. Wake Forest: Both starters return in Daniel Mack and Cyhl Quarles. Mack had 45 tackles and two interceptions last season. Duran Lowe (30 tackles) could unseat Quarles, who is Wake’s leading returning tackler with 71 hits. Redshirt freshman Desmond Cooper is also competing for playing time.

9. Clemson: Rashard Hall has 19 career starts and made 62 tackles and two interceptions last season. Safety Jonathan Meeks (28 tackles, one start) also returns, along with Carlton Lewis.

10. Maryland: Just as Kenny Tate’s move to linebacker bumped the Terps up in the ranking in that category, his departure from safety drops them a few notches as they now don’t have any returning starters there. They do, however, have experience. Eric Franklin played in 11 games, with 23 tackles and three interceptions (tied for second on the team). Matt Robinson played in all 13 games and posted 29 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. The Terps have plenty of depth with Austin Walker, Titus Till, Anthony Green and Desmond Haynes.

11. North Carolina: Matt Merletti had five starts and Jonathan Smith, who lettered in 2008 and 2009 but missed all of last season, are the projected starters. They will be pushed by junior Gene Robinson (four starts, 30 tackles, one interception) for playing time.

12. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace both of their safeties in Mario Edwards and Jerrard Tarrant. Safety Fred Holton (11 tackles) and Isaiah Johnson (46 tackles, one interception) are the two most likely front-runners to start this fall.

Defenses the difference

November, 27, 2010
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Both defenses are now putting the pressure on. The bone-jarring hit that Cameron Chism laid on Mustafa Greene knocked Greene out of the game with a head injury. His status is expected to be updated at halftime.

This quarter has been highlighted by sacks, forced fumbles, and now a game-changing interception by Maryland backup safety Eric Franklin. Maryland has been one of the best turnover teams in the country this year, and NC State fans will remember Russell Wilson's costly interception at East Carolina this year.

In each of NC State's losses this season, turnovers have been a factor. This game is no exception, as the Terps were able to convert that turnover into a game-tying touchdown. The game is 14-14 with 2:25 left in the half.