Terps' defensive leaders are optimistic about upcoming season

Five of Maryland's defensive leaders are also roommates. Cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, inside linebacker L.A. Goree and outside linebackers Matt Robinson and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil frequently watch film and talk about the Terrapins' defense.

And whether it's over breakfast, watching film or just walking around their house, one thing the five have discussed since the spring is that the Terps' defense has a chance to be very good this season.

"We talk about that a lot," Johnson said. "We really feel confident in this unit."

The Terps ranked 44th nationally in total defense last year, but they ranked 21st in 2012 and still have eight players who were either starters or role players on that year's defense.

They lost last year's leading sacker, Marcus Whitfield. However, they replace him with Cudjoe-Virgil, who had three sacks in six games last season and is on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, given annually to the top linebacker in college football.

Maryland also lost cornerback Isaac Goins but will likely replace him with Johnson, a starter in 2012 who would have been the starter over Goins last year had he been healthy.

"I think with the core we have — with everyone returning, we've got a lot of seniors coming back and a lot of starters — and I think it looks very good on defense," senior inside linebacker Cole Farrand said.

The biggest question is likely the pass defense.

The Terps allowed 225 passing yards per game last year, ranking 57th nationally in pass defense.

However, Maryland returns six of seven starters in its front seven, including Kilgo, a 2015 NFL draft prospect, Farrand, an honorable mention All-ACC selection last season, and senior defensive end Andre Monroe, who had 17 tackles for a loss and nine sacks last year.

Robinson, a fifth-year senior, is also back along with junior defensive end Quinton Jefferson and Goree, a three-year starter.

"I view [the front seven] as one of the strongest I've been with," Monroe said. "I think we can do amazing things."

The Terps are also optimistic regarding their secondary.

Depth is a concern at cornerback as coaches wait to see if anyone emerges behind sophomore Will Likely, junior Alvin Hill and Johnson, but coach Randy Edsall has expressed confidence in that top three.

Likely was a starter as a freshman last year. Hill saw time in 12 games last season, and Johnson had a productive year in 2012 (43 tackles, eight pass breakups) before missing most of last season due to injury.

The Terrapins also return both starting safeties, including junior Sean Davis, who led the team with 102 tackles last year.

"We have the potential to be the best [defense] in this conference," Johnson said, "and I really mean that. But someone told me that potential only means that you haven't done it yet."

That said, the defense has shown glimpses of its talent during the first week of preseason practice.

The Terps have plenty of talent on offense with sixth-year senior quarterback C.J. Brown, star wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long and four running backs Edsall feels like have the talent to be starters in the Big Ten.

However, the defense has consistently gotten the better of the offense early in camp.

Brown has often been forced to make throws into tight spaces. Diggs and Long have been kept from producing the types of big plays they have become known for making, and the defense outshined the offense in the trenches Friday during the first full pad practice of camp.

Farrand was been all over the field and consistently finds a way to be around the ball. Robinson made solo tackles on two of the first plays of live contact to hold ball-carriers to minimal gains. Cudjoe-Virgil has provided consistent pressure during team periods.

There have also been big plays from Johnson, who had a nice open-field tackle Friday to stop wide receiver Taivon Jacobs in the backfield on a reverse, and rotational players like nose tackle Keith Bowers, who forced his way into the backfield at one point during red-zone drills Friday and provided possibly the biggest and loudest hit of camp so far while stuffing fullback Kenneth Goins for a loss of yards.

"Defensively, it's a group that really understands their roles," Edsall said. "They understand what needs to be done and you can see them practice with that enthusiasm and that effort. That enthusiasm is what you want to see."



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