Terps Football Spring Preview: Defensive Line
Graduated: Roman Braglio, Azubuike Ukandu
Returning: Melvin Keihn, Dion Goldbourne, Cavon Walker, Jesse Aniebonam, Andrew Isaacs, Mbi Tanyi, Kingsley Opara, Keiron Howard, Seun Oluwatimi, Adam McLean, Chandler Burkett, Oseh Saine, Brett Kulka
Early Enrollees: Bryce Brand
Much like the offensive line’s jekyll and hyde act when it came to run blocking and pass protecting last season, Maryland’s defensive line also excelled in one of its key objectives but struggled with another.
When it came to getting after the quarterback, the Terps were one of the best in the Big Ten, averaging 2.8 sacks per game. Edge rusher Jesse Aniebonam led the way for the defensive line with nine sacks on the season, while Cavon Walker, Kingsley Opara and Roman Braglio all had at least three.
But stopping the run was a completely different story for the Terps defensive line. For as good as Maryland’s offense was on the ground, the defense was just as bad at trying to stop opposing runners from ripping off big chunks of yards. The Terps finished 11th in the conference in rush defense, allowing 214.8 yards per game.
What Maryland’s defensive front lacked in size it seemed to make up for in speed at times last year. But the key for head coach D.J. Durkin and his staff moving forward will be to infuse the roster with defensive linemen that have both bulk and quickness.
Seniors standing out
There will be an influx of talented freshmen joining the Terps defensive line come summer, but in spring ball it has been Maryland’s senior defensive linemen that have been standing out.
Aniebonam, Walker, Opara and Chandler Burkett will all enter the 2017 season as seniors and give Maryland a nice core of upperclassmen to build the defensive front around. Aniebonam has legitimate NFL talent, while Walker and Opara possess pro-level size. Aniebonam, Walker and Burkett will primarily be asked to rush the passer, but Opara could end up needing one of the freshmen to step up to help him hold down the inside.
Aniebonam, Walker and Opara have been mentioned several times by Terps coaches for the strides they have made during spring practices, and all three look primed for big years. Seniority across the defensive line next season should also help usher in the new wave of talent that is coming to that unit, most notably the Gaddy twins and Cam Spence.
Deja Vu from last year. The Terps will have a solid pass rush but still struggle to stop the run. If several of the incoming freshmen defensive tackles prove to be able to contribute right away, Maryland might not be as undermanned on the interior of its defensive line as it appears they could be. But sans a rookie making a big splash in the Big Ten, the Terps could really use some help up the middle. The Terps will lose some bulk on the defensive line with the departures of Roman Braglio and Azubuike Ukandu, and the players waiting in the wings to replace them don’t necessarily have a ton of play time under their belt. Perhaps this will be the year Adam McLean’s potential comes to fruition or maybe someone else will grab the bull by the horns, but the Terps need to find guys that can stuff the run on a consistent basis so that the edge rushers can tee off and get to the quarterback.