At 6 feet 4, Kenny Tate was a formidable safety, towering over receivers and his defensive backfield teammates.
With Tate's imposing size, it made sense for Maryland to shift the all-Atlantic Coast Conference player to linebacker where he can do what he does best — unsettle quarterbacks.
But the offseason move — as well as the switch of linebacker David Mackall to defensive end — has other implications for Maryland's defense as well.
The moves have opened up opportunities for increased roles for other players in the defensive backfield vacated by Tate — including an expected leadership role for second-year safety Matt Robinson.
Switching players' positions is akin to changing the letters in a crossword puzzle.
You can't shift one without affecting everything around it.
Maryland has a history of making position switches work. Tate, who played at DeMatha, was once a receiver. So was former Terps cornerback Nolan Carroll and former safety Terrell Skinner, who both had solid careers as defensive backs.
Coaches are always trying to fit players into their natural positions. "I think [Tate] is best suited as a linebacker," said DeMatha coach Elijah Brooks. "He needs to be up around the box. That's where he made most of his plays [at Maryland]."
Maryland's position switches are also designed to get the best 11 players on the field. Part of coaches' thinking in shifting Tate was that they wanted to create playing time for Robinson (Atholton) and fellow safety Eric Franklin (Archbishop Curley).
"We wouldn't have made [Tate] move if we didn't have confidence in Matt, there's no question," defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Todd Bradford said. "The thing about Matt is he's a very conscientious kid. He's really smart, he's a good athlete. He's a big kid who is going to continue to get bigger and faster and stronger. He played as a true freshman, which is very difficult to do. He has a huge upside in his career."
Robinson played in all 13 games last season but started only one. This season, he feels like it's his time.
"I feel I'm ready to step into that [leadership] role," said Robinson, who said he developed chemistry playing alongside Franklin in spots last season.
Said Bradford: "We've kind of put [Robinson] in a role where a lot's expected of him. He doesn't always get the leeway that another guy maybe his age would get. Our expectations are for him to be playing at this high level all the time."
Robinson is 6 feet 3, and Franklin is just an inch shorter. Seeing over the top of them can be an issue for opposing quarterbacks.
"Maryland has been known to have a lot of big safeties," Robinson said.
During a recent practice, Robinson was lauded by coaches after picking off a pass ("an overthrow," he said) and quickly turning upfield. At 220 pounds, he is not easy to bring down when he gets moving.
But coaches also ride him occasionally.
"He doesn't play always at the tempo that we want him to yet. He's still a puppy," Bradford said. "He still makes mistakes that you expect young guys to make."
Maryland's defense last season ranked in the middle of the ACC (sixth) in total defense. But the Terps excelled at forcing turnovers.
Maryland was plus-15 in turnover margin, second only to Virginia Tech in the ACC.
A key to forcing turnovers is penetrating behind the line — a job that coaches say will fall partly to sophomore Mackall (Edmondson), a backup linebacker last season.
Mackall, 6-3 and 240 pounds, is suited to be a defensive end because "he can bend and he's got really good agility," defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "There's a lot of movement in pass rushing — hands and shoulders. It's kind of like a running back where you try to make a guy miss."
Like others who switch positions, Mackall must learn on the fly.
"He's learning to play the position right now," Gattuso said. "We know he's got the ability."
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