When new Maryland defensive coordinator Todd Bradford talked prior to spring practice with Kenny Tate about changes he wanted to make to the Terps' defense, Tate had just one problem with a proposed idea to move him to linebacker.
It seems Tate isn't a big fan of linemen, specifically playing close to them. As a guy that earned his reputation playing in the open field at free safety in his first three seasons at Maryland, Tate's personal space issues are understandable.
He got over his lineman-phobia as the spring progressed. Now, as Maryland (9-4 overall, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference last season) prepares for its first season under coach Randy Edsall, Tate is ready for his new job description in Bradford's 4-3 defensive scheme.
"I really don't feel like it's a struggle moving down to linebacker," Tate said Sunday at the ACC Football Kickoff media gathering. "I do have to say the main thing is getting used to more linemen being around me. I really don't like linemen. I'm more compact in the box. I'm willing to come up and hit fullbacks and tackle and things like that, so it really wasn't a big change."
Tate, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior, is set to line up as Maryland's "Star" linebacker, which is a hybrid outside linebacker/free safety position. He's not the only Terps linebacker that will be working at a new spot this fall.
Junior Darin Drakeford has moved from SAM to WILL linebacker, while junior Demetrius Hartsfield is going from a two-year starting role at WILL linebacker to middle linebacker, where he'll replace Alex Wujciak.
"It's definitely more of a laid-back defense now," said Tate, who earned first-team All-ACC honors last season after finishing with 100 tackles and three interceptions. "We're not blitzing every play like we did with [former defensive coordinator Don] Brown's defense."
Quarterback Danny O'Brien said seeing Tate closer to the line of scrimmage in the spring time opened up new dimensions of Tate's game.
"I joke with him all the time about it being a chess game with him," O'Brien said. "He has the highest IQ on the defensive side of the ball of anybody I've ever played against."
Bradford, who was Southern Mississippi's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach from 2008 through last season, takes over a Maryland unit that was 21st in the nation in rushing defense last season (124.5 yards per game) and just 78th in passing defense (227.8 yards per game).
While Tate caught on quickly to the idea that Bradford's defense won't feature nearly as much blitzing as Maryland has done in the recent past, Tate said Bradford has coverage schemes that can create turnovers. Southern Miss ranked among the nation's top 30 in turnovers gained in each of Bradford's three seasons as the Golden Eagles' coordinator.
"Everybody on defense already has that bond to where we know where each other is [on the field]," said Tate, who added that he never seriously considered turning pro after last season because he promised his mother he'd get his degree. "I can definitely tell [the changes are] going to help us this season."