Similar to several other positions around the Maryland depth chart, the linebacker spot was hit hard by players graduating. Kenny Tate, Demetrius Hartsfield, and Darin Drakeford were three of the veteran leaders of the Terps defense a season ago and now their loss leaves a lot of playing time up for grabs. However, this isn’t a unit completely riddled with turnover. There are a few permanent fixtures from a year ago that will be returning. It’s a position that is still up for grabs and has a tremendous amount of youth. However, there is some solid depth and there could be many guys that vie for playing time during the 2013 season.
According to the latest depth chart, it appears that Matt Robinson, Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree, and Marcus Whitfield will comprise the starting unit. It’s a unit that was heavily plagued by injury with the group missing 18 games during the 2012 season. Health is clearly going to be one of the deciding factors for the Terps this year. Let’s take a closer look at this starting group:
Matt Robinson (JR): Redshirt junior Matt Robinson will be making the transition from safety to linebacker this upcoming season. The main reason for the move is that the Terps are trying to establish a pass rush. With guys like Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Tate, and Drakeford all gone, Maryland needs to find a way to get pressure on the quarterback. In 2012, the Terps only managed to get 28 sacks (2.3 per game) while their opponents got to the quarterback 39 times. But just why would Robinson make a good linebacker?
Well first off, the Columbia, Md. native is an incredible athlete and was extremely physical in the secondary when he played safety. As many high school athletes do, Robinson played both ways while starring at Atholton High School where he played both wide receiver and safety. He showed off his athleticism as he did everything from taking handoffs to catching every pass thrown his way as he was named to the Baltimore Sun All-Met first team in 2009. Robinson was also a Washington Post All-Met first team selection as a linebacker that very same year. The fact that he has played linebacker before proves that this could be a relatively simple transition for the local product.
When the Atholton graduate is on the field, he has always been incredibly productive. In just five games in 2012, Robinson racked up 26 tackles (21 solo) and an interception. In just 19 career games, Robinson has accumulated 91 tackles (63 solo), four passes defended, and three forced fumbles during his three-year Maryland career. The former safety has never played a complete season but did only miss one game during his freshman campaign. Robinson has a clear nose for the football and can provide the key tackle whenever he has to. For him, it’s just a matter of staying healthy. If he can do that, Robinson can be a big asset to the Terps defensive unit.
Marucs Whitfield (SR): Marcus Whitfield is a guy who hasn’t had a large sample size of production during his Maryland career. But now Whitfield is the elder statesman of the unit and could be primed for a nice season if he plays his cards right. The Germantown native has played primarily a reserve role during his first three years in College Park. During that time, Whitfield has only accumulated 21 tackles (15 solo) to go along with three sacks and a forced fumble. Granted, the numbers aren’t ground-breaking by any stretch and it’s unclear what Whitfield can do if he’s given a chance to start. However, Whitfield is penciled in as a starter at outside linebacker so we can going to find out.
If you watch film on Whitfield, one thing immediately stands out. The Northwest High School alum has some incredible speed and can chase down any player in the open field. Whitfield has a nose for the football and a very sound tackler. He played both ways in high school as he played outside linebacker and lined up at tight end on the offensive side. Whitfield is a great combination of size and speed as he stands at an intimidating 6’3, 250 pounds but can also run down any ball carrier. The senior linebacker is also an extremely versatile player as he lined up at defensive end for the Terps during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Whitfield has received playing time sparingly over his time in College Park. For Whitfield, the talent is definitely there and it’s just about getting the opportunity to excel in a starting role. When you have guys like Tate, Hartsfield, and Darin Drakeford in the linebacking unit, the backups won’t necessarily see a ton of playing time. However, Whitfield has started seven games during his Maryland career and showed his ability to get to the quarterback and contribute on defense when he was on the field. It wouldn’t be a surprising occurrence if Whitfield was a leader on the defensive side of the ball and turned in a very productive senior season.
Cole Farrand (JR): Linebacker Cole Farrand is a guy that we learned a lot about during the 2012 season. After playing primarily on special teams during his freshman campaign, Farrand exploded onto the scene as he started 11 of 12 games for Maryland. The Sparta, NJ native was a highly touted prospect out of Pope John XXIII High School. According to 247 Sports, Farrand was the 20th-ranked inside linebacker in the 2011 recruiting class. The Terps knew that the potential has there as he had a high level of production in high school. In his sophomore season (2008), Farrand had 76 tackles and four sacks (those were the only high school statistics I could find). The New Jersey native only contributed three tackles (two solo) in primarily special teams duty for the Terps in 2011. But this past season, Farrand racked up 78 tackles (47 solo) in 12 games for Maryland. It’s clear that Farrand has an immense amount of talent and could play an even bigger role this season.
Farrand’s skillset allows him to make an impact in many different facets of the game. First off, much like Whitfield, he has a terrific nose for the football. He rarely gets caught out of position, which is essential for any defensive player. The former Pope John XXIII standout is a very instinctive player and plays the run very well. He can get into the backfield on a moment’s notice and make a key stop. On the other hand, he is also comfortable staying at home behind the defensive line and make a tackle in the open field. Having played tight end in high school, one of Farrand’s other strengths is his hands. During his sophomore year at Maryland, he had three passes defended and forced three fumbles. Farrand is not afraid to utilize his hands to knock the ball away from an offensive player and obviously the Terps could always use more forced turnovers. He is also a very sound tackler and doesn’t let a ball carrier get away once he has them in his grasp.
Unlike guys like Whitfield and Robinson, Farrand has seen significant playing time early in his Terrapin career. He has the talent to excel in the ACC and certainly showed that last season. Farrand had at least five tackles in every game last season and getting five only happened on one occasion (against Wake Forest). The New Jersey native is just a very sound football player and does many things extraordinarily well. When it’s all said and done in 2013, Farrand could be the most productive member of Maryland’s linebacking unit and could lead the team in tackles for a second consecutive season.
L.A. Goree (JR): L.A. Goree is a linebacker that has produced from the moment that he suited up for Maryland. Goree redshirted his freshman season in 2010 after spending a year in prep school at Fork Union Military Academy and was ranked as the 19th best prep school prospect in the country. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Goree averaged five tackles per game which was good for fourth in the ACC among freshmen. The Bowie native started seven games in his freshman season and saw significant playing time when Darin Drakeford missed time with an injury. In total, Goree accumulated 60 tackles (30 solo) and was also second on the team with 3.5 sacks. In 2012, his numbers dropped off a little but not enough whether it was incredibly alarming. The C.H. Flowers alum had 46 tackles (33 solo), three tackles for loss, a pass defended, and a forced fumble. Tackle numbers fluctuate from year to year depending on defensive personnel, so that’s not a huge concern. In two seasons in College Park, Goree has shown some tremendous ability in mostly a reserve role.
From an athletic standpoint, Goree has the ability to get to the quarterback whether he is lining up on the defensive line or at the inside linebacker spot. As a redshirt freshman, he played at both the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots. It looks like this year that Goree will team up with Cole Farrand at the two inside linebacker positions. Goree is very quick for his position and has the ability to drop back in coverage and cause problems for opposing wide receivers. The Maryland junior is a tackling machine and can catch up to any ball carrier and bring them to the ground. During his junior year (2007) in high school, the C.H. Flowers linebacker racked up a massive 153 tackles and three interceptions. The interceptions are very crucial because not all linebackers are good at dropping back into coverage to guard tight ends, let alone wide receivers.
Considering that Goree has had most of his success in a reserve role, the sky could be the limit as to his potential. To put into perspective just how good he can be, Goree averaged 5.8 tackles-per-game in 2012. In the three games that he started last season, he averaged a staggering 12.3 tackles-per-game. Goree has the talent and the athleticism to help set the tone for the Terps. Being a full-time starter obviously presents its challenges but Goree could end up being one of the better linebackers in the ACC this coming season.
The Rest Of The Group:
One of the biggest assets that Maryland’s group has is a very good amount of depth. Personally, I’d expect that Robinson, Whitfield, Farrand, and Goree will hold on to their starting spots and be very productive in those roles. However, there are many reserve players that should see significant playing time and could make quite the impact.
Alex Twine (JR): Alex Twine is currently battling it out with Robinson for one of the outside linebacker spots. After having a very successful freshman campaign, Twine’s numbers weren’t quite as impressive in year two. The Gaithersburg native actually started one more game than in the previous season (five as opposed to four). He only accumulated 18 tackles (12 solo) compared to 2011 where he had 44 tackles (23 tackles) and one sack. In 2011, he averaged 9.8 tackles-per-game in his four starts.
If you watch tape on Twine, you can see that he is very physical. When he pursues a ball carrier or wide receiver, he does so with a remarkable intensity. On many occasions, Twine is able to punish an offensive player which comes as somewhat of a surprise given his small frame. He uses his speed to his advantage as he can chase down an offensive player in the open field at a moment’s notice. With ample playing time, Twine could be an absolute force at the linebacker position. I do believe that he’ll get more playing time this season with the linebacking core having a little less stability.
Yannick Ngakoue (FR): As every freshman does under Randy Edsall, Yannick Ngakoue currently stands at the bottom of the depth chart. However, Ngakoue has the pedigree to receive significant playing time in his first season in College Park. Outside of the four starters, playing time is pretty much up for grabs. I do expect backups like Twine and Abner Logan to get extended looks in addition to Ngakoue. The Friendship Academy star was incredibly impressive during his high school career. In his junior year, Ngakoue racked up 87 total tackles and registered nine sacks.
As I said above, don’t expect Ngakoue to start unless there are significant injuries to the linebacking unit. If you watch film of Ngakoue at Friendship Academy, you can tell that he is a very smart player and has a very high football IQ. He is smart enough to stay at home and stop the ball carrier. On the other hand, Ngakoue has the speed to drop back into pass coverage and guard the opposing team’s offensive weapons. One of the other things that I like about Ngakoue is that he is capable of getting to the quarterback. He could line up on the defensive line and rush the passer or line up at linebacker and blitz if necessary. Put bluntly, Nagakoue is a tremendous athlete that could have a very productive freshman season for the Terps.