If there’s a single unit on Maryland’s roster that clearly believes it has a lot to prove, it is the defensive line.
Unlike the offensive line, which was supposed to be good last year and was merely mediocre, it’s been a long while since the Terps rolled up impressive numbers on the defensive front.
Some of it is schematic. Some of it is talent-related.
And then there’s the experience factor, which loyal readers know I don’t place as much stock in as others – other than to point out it’s anyone’s guess how good some of the Terps’ younger players are.
That’s also something that will be delved into for tomorrow’s dead-tree edition.
But while many folks doubt the line because of prominent roles for guys who have either barely played (Derek Drummond and Deege Galt) or have never played (A.J. Francis and Masengo Kabongo), the more legitimate wariness comes from unit’s lack of production for five years running.
Let this chart of Maryland’s rushing defense and sacks rankings in the ACC during the Ralph Friedgen years explain it:
|Year ||Rush Defense||Sacks|
|2001||90.6 (1st)||38 (1st)|
|2002||128.6 (3rd)||37 (2nd)|
|2003||127.2 (3rd)||33 (2nd)|
|2004||143.1 (7th)||28 (8th)|
|2005||165.7 (11th)||21 (9th)|
|2006||162.9 (10th)||20 (11th)|
|2007||147.3 (10th)||28 (9th)|
|2008||146.7 (9th)||28 (7th)|
The cliff notes version: Maryland has finished in the bottom half of the ACC in rushing defense and sacks for the last five years.
While one of those by itself isn’t a completely trustworthy indicator of solid defensive line play, the two of them put together suggest some quantifiable evidence things haven’t gone well.
And if that isn’t enough, a mention of names like Steve Slaton and Darren Evans and Mikell Simpson and Preston Parker (and the cleat marks they left on the Terps) should do the trick, too.
Maryland has a young, fired-up group (and I’ll have more on the blog about them tomorrow) and a new defensive scheme, both of which could constitute a break from the past.
It isn’t entirely fair to assume the Terps’ defensive line won’t thrive, simply because there’s too many unknown variables in play. It remains to be seen just how good Francis and Kabongo are (though both certainly look the part up close), or how a guy like Drummond will handle a steady role.
But just like Maryland has earned the right to expect some faith in its perennially good units (like linebackers and tight ends), a historically less productive group warrants scrutiny until it proves otherwise.
If the Terps’ defensive line does exceed expectations (and that might not be arduous given some online rankings), it might just shatter its own recent precedent as well.