Two weeks ago, defensive tackle Justin Anderson sat down with Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen to discuss his immediate future.
Anderson had gone nearly half the season without playing, but was listed as the top backup to Travis Ivey. A question hovered – would he play as a true freshman?
“I told them I’d do anything to help the team – redshirting me, putting me on scout team, if he felt I could help the team out that way, then I’d help them out that way,” Anderson said. “But he came to me and said ‘Justin, we think you can play a little bit, help us and contribute,’ then I can do that, too.”
It didn’t happen immediately. But last week against Virginia, Anderson received his first playing time – about a half-dozen snaps spelling Ivey in a 20-9 loss.
The decision was a bit curious from Maryland’s vantage point, considering Joe Vellano also returned last week. But it does remove any doubt about Anderson’s significance for this season – even if it means his career in College Park will last four years rather than five.
And that peace of mind about his role was significant, even if either direction would have worked well.
“It was a little questionable, but i kept playing hard in practice and let it take its course,” Anderson said. “I really wasn’t disappointed if I wasn’t going to play. It was giving me time to learn the system and get better.”
An important issue for Anderson at this stage is his size. He certainly has the frame – 6-foot-5 – to thrive at defensive tackle.
But at 265 pounds, he’s giving up 40 pounds to most of the guards he’ll go up against.
“My strength is basically making up for my lack of size right now,” Anderson said. “Coach [Dave] Sollazzo told me they want me to get some hips and everything. That’s what I’m working on now.”
There’s plenty of time for him to improve, and it’s also clear Maryland is committed to getting many of its defensive linemen reps throughout games to prevent starters from getting weary.
Going forward, Anderson should be in the mix – especially now that any questions are out of his mind about whether he’ll play or not.
“I was glad to get it out of the way,” Anderson said. “In the back of your head, you’re thinking about it but you’re trying to go on. Now that I know I’m going to finish out the season, I’m pretty excited.”