Meet The New Guys

Maryland Football Camp Preview

August 09, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - - Don Brown shakes his head and smiles at the newness of it all.

With the departure of most of last year's top linebackers and defensive linemen, the Maryland defensive coordinator will inherit seven new starters on defense.

But that's not all.

Brown, 54, is new to College Park himself, having spent the previous five seasons as the University of Massachusetts head coach. When the Terrapins open preseason practices Monday, he will be teaching a pressing, blitzing defense unlike anything Maryland has run in recent years.

The defense is likely to include young players such as Masengo Kabongo, a redshirt freshman who was impressive in spring drills and who coaches say is essentially tied with senior Deege Galt for a starting defensive end spot. Training camp opens with the team uncertain of the academic eligibility of Dion Armstrong, a redshirt sophomore who played in all 13 games last season at defensive tackle.

It's not only the defense that is retooling this season. Gone is last season's 30-member senior class, the largest under coach Ralph Friedgen, who enters his ninth season. This year's team has just 14 seniors.

Maryland opens the season on the road on Sept. 5 against a California team picked second behind Southern California in Pacific-10 media balloting. The Terps were picked fifth in the Atlantic Division at the Atlantic Coast Conference kickoff conference last month. Maryland has been picked fifth before each of the past three seasons.

But Maryland is young and, therefore, unpredictable. And the conference has such parity that predictions are risky.

Ten of the conference's 12 teams ended up 5-3 or 4-4 last season in ACC play. Maryland finished 4-4 after dropping its final two regular-season games and accepting a bid to the Humanitarian Bowl, which had the eighth pick of ACC teams.

Among the keys this season is how quickly the youthful offensive line and receivers develop, senior quarterback Chris Turner said.

"Offensively a few things need to happen," said Turner, who was dissatisfied with last season's overall 8-5 mark. "We need to get our offensive line going - we're a young offensive line. We have a pretty good test starting off Sept. 5 against Cal. That will be sort of a marker to see where we're at."

"We'll develop the running game. We're very deep at receiver. They're young, but they are talented, so we need them to step up."

Among the settled positions is quarterback - Turner won't have to battle for the job, as he did last season.

"I think there is a certain comfort level there," Friedgen said of having Turner, who is 5-1 as a starter against Top 25 teams, ensconced as the starter.

But training camp will determine starting spots at a number of positions, notably along the offensive line, which lost five of its top seven members.

All the change - and the youth - is both exciting and a little daunting for the coaches.

No coach is undergoing a bigger adjustment than Brown, the replacement for Chris Cosh, who left after the regular season to become an assistant at Kansas State.

A head coach the past nine seasons - first at Northeastern, then at Massachusetts - Brown literally had to learn during spring practices to stop blowing his whistle. Friedgen gently reminded him that using the whistle is the head coach's task.

Maryland's defense was inconsistent last season. It shut out North Carolina in the second half, shut out Wake Forest in both halves and held North Carolina State to seven points after halftime. But the Terps were last in the ACC in recovered fumbles, second to last in interceptions and tied for last in tackles for loss.

Brown began implementing his approach in spring drills. The 4-3 defense, in which receivers are jammed at the line, will replace last season's zone coverage.

"I'm shocked at how much we got in during the spring," said Brown, interviewed during a recent preseason event of the Maryland Gridiron Network. He and the other assistant coaches wore red Terps polo shorts and mingled with boosters.

"Still, we've got a long way to go. This [the new defense] is really different," Brown said.

A student of defenses, Brown and his assistants showed up recently at the Washington Redskins training camp to watch the NFL team practice. Brown said he was struck by similarities - the pressure defense and cornerbacks playing near the line - between his approach and that of Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache.

Now Brown just needs to find the right players, particularly on the line, to run his system. Here are some questions he and other coaches face as camp opens:

If Armstrong is unavailable, who will pick up the slack on the defensive line? Coaches say senior Travis Ivey and redshirt freshman A.J. Francis top the depth chart at the tackles. Galt and Kabongo may split time at end, with senior Jared Harrell and sophomore Derek Drummond also getting significant playing time at an end spot, as well.

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