Terps' Ngakoue developing into all-around linebacker

Matt Zenitz
Contact ReporterBaltimore Sun Media Group
Yannick Ngakoue could already rush the passer. Now the Terps linebacker is becoming a better all-around player

Maryland coach Randy Edsall and outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue sat in Edsall's office for a brief time Tuesday morning and talked about school and football.

Edsall also shared with Ngakoue the pride the coach feels for the sophomore.

"I'm very proud of him in terms of how he's listened to what we've said as coaches and how he's more coachable," Edsall said of Ngakoue, who has started all seven games for the Terps, is tied for the Big Ten lead with 9.5 tackles for a loss and has four sacks. "He's really developing into a great all-around person. He's a really good student, a really good player on the field and a good person off the field."

Ngakoue had 17 sacks as a senior at Friendship Collegiate Academy in 2012, was ranked as the fourth-best outside linebacker in his recruiting class by Rivals.com, and Terps outside linebackers coach Lyndon Johnson said during the summer that Ngakoue has been capable of generating pressure as a pass rusher since he first arrived at Maryland last year.

The problem last year was that Ngakoue had improvements he had to make in other areas of his game for coaches to feel comfortable with him playing a significant role. He was a reserve outside linebacker as a freshman.

"This time last year, all he wanted to do was come off the edge, come off the edge," Johnson said in August. "So we would kind of bump heads, and I'd say, 'I know you can pass rush, but there's a lot more to this position than rushing the quarterback.'"

Ngakoue has improved in those other areas — notably defending the run and playing coverage — to the point he is still starting at outside linebacker, even with senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil back from a foot injury that sidelined him for the first three games.

"Being behind guys when you're used to being the starter in high school and being the go-to guy in high school is definitely just a humbling experience," Ngakoue said. "And it's just coming in, working behind those guys and earning your playing time.

"It's always good to just come and be behind somebody when you first get to college, just to have to work for what you want and not just get everything handed to you."

Teammates and coaches noticed a different Ngakoue as early as the summer. Coaches, like Johnson, have talked about how much Ngakoue has matured and improved his understanding of Maryland's defense. Teammates saw the work Ngakoue put in during summer workouts.

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs was asked at Big Ten media days which young players he thought were poised to have breakthrough seasons for the Terps. Ngakoue was one of the first players he mentioned.

"I went to every workout [during the summer]," Ngakoue said. "As well as going to workouts, I always did the extra. After workouts, I would work a little more on my technique and my get-offs and stuff like that. And on weekends when we had our days off, I would keep conditioning and just keep running as well to stay in shape, so I just feel like I put the extra work in and the extra time in to get the results."

Ngakoue has also become more committed to studying film.

Each week, in addition to normal film watching responsibilities, Ngakoue and Cudjoe-Virgil break down the film of the opposing offensive tackles they are about to face and try to diagnose weaknesses.

Heading into the game against Iowa last week, Ngakoue and Cudjoe-Virgil saw that finesse moves would be needed against Iowa's left tackle, a big, power player. Meanwhile, they thought speed could beat the right tackle.

Ngakoue had a sack as well as other pressures.

"He's not even close to being where he can be as long as he stays healthy and he keeps working," Edsall said. "He's getting better each and every day. … I'm excited for him because of how hard that he's working and how much that he's taking in everything that we're telling him that he needs to do to get better."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
36°