Terps may need more young players to step up on defense

September 21, 2014|By Matt Zenitz | Baltimore Sun Media Group

Maryland coach Randy Edsall stood outside the visiting locker room at the Carrier Dome on Saturday shortly after the Terps beat Syracuse.

Edsall was happy about the win, which moved Maryland to 3-1 heading into next week's Big Ten opener at Indiana. But he also understands the difficult position the Terps are in defensively because of the amount of injuries Maryland has endured since the season began in late August.

"We're going to have to have a lot more guys step up," Edsall said.

When the season began, the Terps returned nine of 11 starters from last year, and all but four players on that initial defensive two-deep had seen at least a decent amount of playing time on defense in 2013 or throughout their career.

But injuries have forced Maryland to rely on young players to step in and contribute at both linebacker and along the defensive line, and the Terps may now need young players to step up at cornerback as well after starter Alvin Hill suffered an apparent leg injury against Syracuse.

The Big Ten does not require its teams to release injury reports, so Edsall typically does not provide much information regarding injuries unless a player suffers a season-ending injury. But it is possible that Maryland could be without a starter at each level of its defense for next week's game against an Indiana team that has averaged 33.6 points per game.

Edsall announced Sunday that defensive end Quinton Jefferson will miss the rest of the season because of a right knee injury that he suffered against West Virginia on Sept. 13, and it is unclear if either Hill or outside linebacker Matt Robinson will be available.

Without Jefferson and Robinson against Syracuse — and with starting inside linebacker Cole Farrand not playing until midway through the second half because of his own injury — the Terps allowed 589 yards, including 370 rushing yards.

"Defensively, we've got some things that we've got to shore up," Edsall said.

Redshirt freshman Jalen Brooks replaced Robinson when he was injured against West Virginia, and he started in place of Robinson against Syracuse.

Junior Avery Thompson, who spent the first three weeks of the season on the scout team, also saw a good amount of playing time against Syracuse with Robinson sidelined and with backup Cavon Walker out for the rest of the season because of a foot injury.

"I thought Avery went in and did a good job," Edsall said. "I thought Jalen played a little bit tentative in really his first time in there and just getting used to that position. But I think he'll get better as he plays more."

The Terps have an experienced player to step in for Jefferson at defensive end in senior Keith Bowers, who had been sharing time at nose tackle with Darius Kilgo. But freshman David Shaw, who Maryland was originally hoping to redshirt, now will be asked to back up and spell Kilgo with Bowers moving to defensive end.

Maryland also may have to call upon sophomore Jarrett Ross or freshman Daniel Ezeagwu to step up and contribute at cornerback depending on Hill's status. Senior Jeremiah Johnson would replace Hill in the starting lineup. The Terps would then need either Ross or Ezeagwu to step in for Johnson as the third cornerback.

"We'll evaluate [injured players] as we go through the week and see where we're at come game time next week," Edsall said.

NOTE: Edsall said game balls for Saturday's win over Syracuse went to senior center Sal Conaboy (offense), sophomore cornerback Will Likely (defense) and junior safety Anthony Nixon (special teams). Nixon blocked a punt, which helped set up a touchdown. Likely had nine tackles, a tackle for a loss and an interception that he returned 88 yards for a touchdown. And Edsall said of Conaboy, "I thought Sal played one of his best games since he's been here."

mzenitz@tribune.com

twitter.com/mzenitz

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