Trio of Strength

Terps three linebackers understand their mission: `As we go, so goes the defense.'

August 24, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- When Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson first met teammate William Kershaw, he could barely understand him. Kershaw's thick, North Carolina drawl kept his roommate guessing.

Now, as the seniors line up next to each other to anchor the Terps' defense, their communication couldn't be better.

Jackson and Kershaw, along with redshirt junior David Holloway, lead a unit that has played more snaps collectively than any other Terps group on defense. Sandwiched between a young defensive line and a secondary that lost three starters, the linebackers are being counted on heavily this year to help slow the run. The trio combined for 32 starts last fall.

"I tell my guys, `As we go, so goes the defense,' " inside linebacker coach Tim Banks said. "When we're playing at a high tempo with great focus, it really brings a different type of energy to the defense. I think the D-line looks to us. We're young in the secondary, in the back. We're a common force for those guys.

"If experience counts for anything," Banks said, "my guys should be ready to go."

Jackson, who started all 11 games last year, has the most experience of anyone on defense. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 123 tackles, snagged two interceptions and broke up five passes. He also had seven tackles for loss and four sacks.

Still, the 6-foot-1, 231-pound middle linebacker gets so nervous before games he throws up -- every time.

"I still can't tell you why I do it," said Jackson, noting it has been his pre-game ritual since he was 7. "I'm always in that stall throwing up, right before we go out. I think about big plays, what I have to do, I think about the other team. ... I need to have a good game."

Especially with the inexperience surrounding him. With the exception of the starting linebackers, only cornerback Gerrick McPhearson and defensive tackle Conrad Bolston earned starts last year.

Kershaw started 10 games last fall and finished fourth on the team with 74 tackles (38 solo). He also had six tackles for losses, two sacks and led the team with two blocked kicks. He posted a career-high 14 tackles in a losing effort against Virginia Tech.

Holloway, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship, started all 11 games last year and finished with 53 tackles (29 solo). He also led the team with two fumble recoveries.

"We've formed that gel and that knowing that if one person misses something, the other one has your back," said Holloway. "It's not just physical [ability] and us playing together, but it's also us being leaders and showing everybody how to do things. We know that we want it on us. If the offense scores three points and it's 3-0, then if we do our job, we're going to win."

Holloway's father, Brian Holloway, was an offensive tackle with the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders.

It's imperative all three linebackers stay healthy, especially with a spate of injuries that included a torn anterior cruciate ligament to top reserve Erin Henderson. Wesley Jefferson's role as a backup took on greater significance when Henderson's season ended last week.

Although Jefferson is strongest in the middle, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said Jefferson can be moved to weak-side linebacker and redshirt freshman Chase Bullock can back up Jackson.

"Erin was playing very well for us," Friedgen said. "He was going to play on a lot of special teams. It was one of our deeper positions, but now we're one talented guy less. Our two starters are crucial."

Just ask the defensive backs.

"D'Qwell is the best player I've ever played with," cornerback Josh Wilson said. "His athleticism, with being able to play the pass and the run, it's amazing how he can do both. And those linebackers, Dave Holloway, I've never trusted any linebackers helping me out in coverage, but he's done it before. He's done it in games. I give him my trust."

NOTE: After missing more than a week of practice with a sprained left ankle, senior tailback Mario Merrills scored three straight times against the second-string defense in a goal-line scrimmage at the end of practice. ... Friedgen tentatively defined his starting offensive line as Derek Miller, a former tight end at left tackle, Donnie Woods at left guard, Andrew Crummey at right guard and Brandon Nixon at right tackle. He said competition for center remains between Ryan McDonald and Edwin Williams.

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