Meant to get this up over the weekend, but the postponement of Maryland’s scrimmage on Saturday led to an admittedly lazy day on my part.
So, yes, this Q&A with Maryland linebackers coach Al Seamonson was done before yesterday’s scrimmage. As usual, he had his own even-keel take on a unit that probably has the more potential to surprise experience-loving analysts than any other on the Terrapins’ roster.
Here we go with eight good minutes with Seamonson. …
Q: Have you been pleasantly surprised by what you’ve seen so far or could you have seen this figuring itself out the way it has right now?
AS: I’m very happy with the progress Darin Drakeford’s made, because that gives us at least two legitimate Sams that can play. We really had a legitimate question mark on that going into fall camp. We felt good about [Adrian] Moten, but you’ve got to have two. To me, this isn’t a scheme where it’s easy to just flip guys around. There’s too much learning going on.
I felt like we’d be strong in the middle if [Alex] Wujciak came back healthy because Drew Gloster has the ability to play and Avery Murray is real good for a true freshman, too. Him and Drakeford, that was huge for them to come in early and get us some depth.
The good thing about the Will spot is you have a young player like [Demetrius] Hartsfield, and I think a guy like Ben Pooler [can help]. A guy like Hakeem Sule is someone who doesn’t make many mistakes, but Ben Pooler’s been here three years and hasn’t played yet, either, really. He’s a bigger kid who can run decently if he can stay healthy. He’s practiced well, and that gives us an extra backup right there.
I think we have a chance to go into the season with six guys and maybe a seventh and a guy who can play special teams as well. So I’m encouraged by what’s happened so far in camp.
Q: You look at Moten, for a scheme that has a lot of blitzing, maybe he’s as good a fit as you have on the entire roster. Is that fair to say and is he even better than he was in that part-time pass rushing deal last year?
AS: Without trying to give a lot of info to opponents reading your paper, we certainly hope that’s the case. He was a pretty dynamic rusher for us last year. Now, he’s a linebacker and he’s in a little more of a pressure-blitz mode rather than being a dynamic rusher. We may use him in that role, still. He was good in that role last year, but [Moise] Fokou was as good or better. So I’m hoping that will be his forte. He’ll be a good blitzer from different spots and angles and gaps and so forth, and we’re counting on that.
Q: You mentioned Drakeford, and Ralph has said he’s put on 30-35 pounds since he got here. Has he taken a substantial leap since he got here in the spring and is going to help this year?
AS: I think there’s no question guys like Drakeford and Murray will help this year. Now how much on defense, depends on health and game situations, etc. Both I think will play vital roles in our kicking game early, from game one on to game 12.
Drakeford, the reason he’s been successful going into this camp, was that he was here for the spring semester. He had a full spring semester and summer cycle with coach [Dwight] Galt in the weight program, and that’s really benefited him. He came in benching a buck 85, barely the bar and two plates. Now, he’s right around 300 or better. He’s had great strength improvement. His legs have always been good. His upper body is catching up with his lower body. He’s running good, he has fast twitch change-of-direction ability and he’s learned.
I’m excited about his opportunity in the future, but you’re always worried about playing a lot of freshmen.
Q: Does Wujciak look like he’s fully back from his [offseason knee] surgery?
AS: Well, I think he had a very good first scrimmage when he had a chance to go full speed for the first time. We’ve tried to be careful with him since then. We have him a day off to rest and treat himself. We’re trying to work him back so he’s healthy and can practice every day and have no repercussions of overusage of coming back from an injury.
The things I’ve seen from him so far is his speed and quickness are better than last year, and now we have to keep him healthy to get him to the season.
Q: Gloster has taken to the position pretty well since the spring, it would seem.
AS: Yeah, I think he sees himself as a linebacker now and not a guy who will come over and try to see if it works and fits him or if he can do it or not. He’s a guy who hasn’t played it for a long time and he’s not a natural linebacker, but he’s got all the tools to be a linebacker.
He has to get better at the little things – the things I like to coach – keys, discipline, first steps, angles, the things that make you a better football player. If you’re big, strong and can run, it’s those things that allow you to play good. Reading well, understanding what offenses are trying to do when they attack you, all those types of things. The intangibles. If he can get all those things right, he can be a good player.
Q: If you look at the three guys you have at Will – Hartsfield, Pooler and Sule – there’s not a lot of experience in there. Not that that necessarily means a whole lot, but does that change the way you approach those guys or do you just figure they’re ready to go at this point?
AS: I don’t look at those guys as freshmen on the football field or guys who haven’t played, because I’m with them. I talk to them. We’re in meetings. We’re in practice. To me, it’s not like they’ve never played in a game even though that’s probably the case.
You hope that they’ll play like they practice, which has gotten very good and become more consistent. I think they can get the job done. They just haven’t played. You have a little lack of experience over there, but I’m hoping that’s not a reason they wouldn’t play well in the game.
Q: Is it harder to switch positions in this scheme?
AS: It’s a little tougher because you have to learn a new set of blitzes. Some of the coverage concepts are the same. At the same time, you’re playing this spot and you’re learning these blitzes. This spot, these blitzes. If you’re a really football-savvy guy, you’ll know on the blitzes who’s coming where. The first thing you have to do is learn your position.
Sams, Mikes and Wills all have blitzes that call their names. Sometimes both of them or three of them going at the same time. Yet when you play another position, you have to reprogram yourself: ‘Wait a minute, I’m the Will. Am I first? Am I second? Am I here or am I there?’ It’s a little bit trickier.
Q: Is there anyone of those subs that you can see down the road – if need be – playing two positions just to create some kind of versatility for you?
AS: Certainly, Moten’s done that in the past. He’s played end, he’s played Sam, he’s played Mike, he’s played Will, to some degree all those positions in some packages. But he would be the most likely guy to play more than one spot, especially if you have good depth behind him.
Then, maybe Avery Murray or Gloster, we could talk to them and say ‘Hey, be aware of this other position. If need be, you’re a guy who can be a Sam.’ But it’s a little trickier to practice it and get high reps at multiple linebacker positions.
Q: Are any of the other freshman beyond Murray and Drakeford sticking out to you at this point?
AS: A couple I think are going to be good. I think [Ryan] Donahue, Bradley Johnson show very good things. They seem to learn fast and pick up things, they’ve just been a little more limited in the reps they’ve been getting. In a different situation, they might be getting more but we’ve got pretty good depth with all those guys in there.
But they’re all in there together. It’s a little tougher to give everybody reps, so we’re going with the guys we feel are most ready right now.