Anytime you lose two defensive linemen at the caliber of Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, you will have some big shoes to fill. Vellano and Francis were two-star recruits that blossomed into a pair of talented ACC linemen.
But with those huge losses and defensive end Justin Anderson transferring to Massachusetts, Maryland’s defenseive line has a lot to prove in 2013. The current group doesn’t have many career starts under their belt and will be searching for an identity coming into this season. Darius Kilgo, Keith Bowers, and Quinton Jefferson are listed as the starters heading into training camp. It’s a far cry from the starting group of just a season ago. However, there is a good amount of experience and a key freshman that could impress this upcoming season.
With a different group, just how will this defensive line fare in 2013? Let’s take a look at the parts that will make up this year’s defensive front for the Terps:
Darius Kilgo: After only registering five tackles in his freshman campaign, defensive lineman Darius Kilgo had a highly productive season in 2012. The Charlotte native registered 40 tackles (23 solo), 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 12 games for the Terps. His best game came against Georgia Tech, where he racked up seven tackles, four of which were solo. Kilgo only appeared in three games in 2011 so it is clear that he has a ton of potential. The junior nose tackle has great size at 6’3, 310 pounds and is expected to start for the Terps. Kilgo started 11 of 12 games last season and registered seven tackles on two different occasions (against William & Mary and NC State).
The production has been there for Kilgo whenever he has received significant playing time. During his senior season in high school, Kilgo registered 67 tackles, four sacks, and two forced fumbles. It’s a pretty good indication that the North Carolina native will have a big season for Maryland this year. He made a tremendous leap forward in 2012 and an even bigger season in 2013 wouldn’t surprise anyone.
Keith Bowers: Terps defensive end Keith Bowers had a very respectable campaign in 2011 and was expected to be a key cog on the defensive line for the team. Unfortunately, Bowers missed three games due to a knee injury and didn’t have quite as much of an impact as many thought he would. The Florida native only ended up with 11 tackles (five solo), two tackles for loss, one sack, and a pass defended. This is shades below what the junior defensive end did in his freshman season. Bowers put up some impressive numbers as he totaled 36 tackles to go along with six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
It’s clear that the skill-set is definitely there for Bowers. If you watch film on the defensive end, you can see how athletic and quick he is. Bowers play on the interior and on the end in high school, showing just how versatile he can be. The Dwyer High School product isn’t the biggest guy in the world at 6’1, 275 pounds but his quickness and strength make up for his lack of size. Bowers should be able to provide a strong pass rush off the edge. He also has shown the ability to get into the backfield and stop ball carriers in a hurry as he did it a ton at the high school level. With a healthy season in 2013, Bowers is certainly capable of having a career year and he’s a guy that could be a leader on Maryland’s defensive front.
Quinton Jefferson: In limited action over his freshman season, Maryland defensive end Quinton Jefferson made a solid impact. Jefferson came into last spring fourth on the depth chart behind Joe Vellano, Isaiah Ross, and Justin Anderson at the defensive end spot. With Vellano graduating and Anderson transferring, Jefferson now has sole possession of the other starting defensive end spot opposite Bowers. Jefferson hasn’t really had a chance to flourish as a full-time starter, so this season will show what he is truly made of.
The Pittsburgh-area native is very athletic and can rush off the edge with his quickness. Standing at 6’3, he has the ability to bat balls down at the line of scrimmage and did that quite frequently in high school. Jefferson appeared in nine games for the Terps as a freshman and did fairly well when he received playing time. He racked up 13 tackles including five tackles against both Georgia Tech and Florida State. Jefferson also recovered two fumbles, but spent most of the season behind Vellano and learned from the former Terp about the tools of the trade. If you’re learning the defensive end position from someone, Vellano is a great guy to learn from as he was one of the better defensive linemen that Maryland has seen in quite some time. With Jefferson still having three more seasons in College Park, the sky is the limit and he should be able to make a solid impact in the rotation.
Andre Monroe: Andre Monroe was a player that came to College Park surrounded by a tremendous amount of hype. Monroe was a freshman All-America selection and was recognized by just about every college football website or prognosticator for his stellar campaign. The St. John’s product registered 18 tackles (seven solo) and 7.5 tackles for loss. Monroe also had five sacks which was the second-most in the last nine years by a Maryland freshman (Adrien Moten had 5.5 & Shawne Merriman had five). It was also quite impressive that Monroe was able to rack up that many sacks while missing three games that season. Unfortunately, the injury bug followed him in 2012 and was much more severe. The then-sophomore missed the entire season with a knee injury that he sustained in a preseason practice.
Despite a lost season in 2012, Monroe still has the tools to be a key part of the Terps defensive line. As long as the knee doesn’t slow him down, he could be in for another big year in his junior season. Monroe has very good speed off the edge and can get to the quarterback pretty easily as he showed in 2011. When you put yourself in the same company as guys like Merriman, you must be doing pretty well for yourself. My expectation is that Monroe will get close to the same number of snaps as starters Keith Bowers and Quinton Jefferson. Monroe is a tad undersized but definitely has the talent to be a premiere pass rusher in the ACC. He should be able to put up similar statistics to his freshman campaign, assuming he has a strong camp and is 100 percent healthy.
Kingsley Opara: Kingsley Opara was one of the most heralded members of the 2013 Maryland recruiting class. With Derwin Gray now not with the team at least for the upcoming season, Opara could be the crown jewel of the class. The Florida native has the ability to line up at both defensive end and defensive tackle which gives defensive line coach Greg Gattuso plenty of options with the type of defensive fronts that he wants to put up. Opara mostly lined up at defensive tackle in high school, but it sounds like the Terps want to use him more at defensive end. It makes sense with Kilgo looking to be the primary nose tackle for Randy Edsall’s squad.
If I were to guess, I’d say that Opara will garner a high amount of snaps and should see action in key situations. The Mandarin High School product had a strong senior season as he had 42 tackles with 11 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He was elected to participate in several Florida all-star games and was a three-star recruit who was also courted by ACC schools such as NC State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest. Gattuso has compared Opara to A.J. Francis which is never a bad thing when you’re trying to replace that very player’s production. Opara is a guy that is very strong and gets penetration into the backfield on many occasions. That would explain his high sack totals. When you have a player that is physical and can line up at several different spots, you have a pretty good feeling that you’re looking at a special athlete. I am of a firm belief that Opara will have a huge amount of success in his freshman season and could be a star at Maryland over the next few years.