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Maryland football's defense stays united in DJ Durkin's new system

Three things immediately came to Roman Braglio's mind Wednesday when he was asked to describe the new defense DJ Durkin is installing at Maryland.

"Mindset. Intensity. Run to the ball," he said.

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Those were important tenets through the first week of the Maryland football team's fall camp under Durkin as he attempts to remake the Terps defense in the image of those he led at Michigan and Florida. Last week, it started with a unified front.

"He always talks about power of the unit," said Braglio, a defensive lineman from McDonogh. "If one person messes up, the whole defense messes up. It's our defense, our team, and everything matters. It's the little things, where it's running off the field or taking the right footstep. It's a big deal. That's how he puts it."

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Last season, Durkin's defense at Michigan ranked fourth nationally in total defense (281 yards allowed per game) and tied for 10th in scoring defense (17.2 points allowed per game). His final defense at Florida ranked ninth and 24th, respectively.

Melvin Keihn and Josh Woods were on opposite sides of the historic Gilman-McDonogh rivalry during their prep careers and now, the two will suit up on the same defense.

Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh are trying to revamp a group that left plenty of room for improvement after last season.

Maryland was tied for 89th in total defense (421 yards per game) and 103rd in scoring defense (34.4 points per game). The Terps allowed at least 28 points in nine games and at least 40 points five times.

So Durkin spent the spring installing a defense he hopes will take advantage of an aggressive playing style and the talent available. Cornerback Will Likely said there's "way more" man-to-man coverage for the defensive backs, and the addition of Florida transfer JC Jackson has allowed Durkin to move Likely around more, to give him more chances to make plays.

Braglio said the defensive line gets together every night to study the playbook and help with the freshmen's learning curve. He said the play should be the last thing any of the players think about when they're on the field.

"In the spring, that's when they really slammed it on us," Braglio said. "But now that I've seen it before, it's kind of a review right now. But I'm looking at a freshman's standpoint. It's a lot of plays we're putting in — three, four, five plays a day. No matter the scheme, that's hard to grasp. But you got to do it."

Durkin's defense is a hybrid of the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, and the Terps have the personnel on the field to shift seamlessly between those two formations. Junior Jesse Aniebonam and redshirt sophomore Melvin Keihn (Gilman) are both working at the "Buck" position, which is a combination of defensive end and outside linebacker.

Aniebonam and Keihn can play with their hands on the ground, as a defensive end would, or they can step back from the line to give the opposing offense a look at a three-man front. That versatility extends to the rest of the defense.

Sophomore Darnell Savage Jr. has been working next to junior Josh Woods (McDonogh) at safety after appearing in 10 games and making one start as a freshman last fall. Durkin wants his players to be able to play different positions easily, and he's singled out Savage — "He didn't even flinch on that move," Durkin said — as a player who has been able to adapt to the system.

Boys' Latin long snapper Brock Sassler commits to Maryland.

"It gives you a chance to put different things on your resume, help out where it's needed, because you never know," Woods said. "Football is a game of adversity. So one guy can go down and the next man up could be a safety, but a nickel [cornerback] went down, so somebody has to come in at nickel. If they need you to switch, they need you to switch as one unit. It's not about yourself. It's one big unit."

When Braglio talked about what makes this year's defense different from the other units the fifth-year senior has been a part of during his career in College Park, he circled back to the mentality of the team. Durkin has brought a new intensity to Maryland, but he's also changed how the defense approaches its job on the field.

"It's our team, our defense, everything," Braglio said. "It's definitely a mindset."

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But based off the limited view of Maryland in practice this week, there are still some educated guesses that can be made about what the Terps will look like.

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