- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In his daily practice rundowns, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen can’t help but mention Rick Costa whenever he discusses Trey Covington.

Or Chase Bullock when talking about Dave Philistin.

Or Adrian Moten whenever he mentions Moise Fokou.

Each pair will split time at one of the Terrapins‘ four linebacker spots when the season opens Saturday against Delaware at Byrd Stadium. And while it appears middle linebacker Alex Wujciak is the only set starter, the horn of plenty at the other positions only encourages Friedgen.

“To me, you can flip a coin,” Friedgen said.

Indeed, this might be the deepest and most versatile linebacker corps Maryland will enjoy this decade. There might not be an E.J. Henderson, who won the Butkus Award in 2002, or a D’Qwell Jackson, who was a Butkus finalist in 2005, among their ranks. But the Terps possess far more options and are less vulnerable to injuries at linebacker than in recent years - an enviable situation rendered even more impressive considering Erin Henderson’s decision to give up his final year of eligibility rather than return in 2008.

Last fall, Maryland’s linebackers were not insulated from the Terps’ roster-wide injury carnage. Bullock and Costa missed extended time, while Henderson dealt with an assort of ailments and sat out one game. Moten, then a redshirt freshman, was at one juncture the backup at three linebacker positions and worked at the other.

While Philistin ranked fourth in the ACC in tackles, he also logged serious work in practice. At times, he was needed to work with both the first and second teams because of a paucity of linebackers.

“We took a lot of snaps last year, so it’s good to have fresh bodies in there,” Philistin said.

Oddly enough, the bounty at linebacker wasn’t guaranteed a few months ago. Costa, Fokou and Philistin all missed the spring with shoulder injuries, and Costa was shifted to Maryland’s hybrid Leo spot. The combination of a position change and brushing off an injury appeared to make the reserve Leo the most tenuous backup slot.

But Costa enjoyed a strong camp, earning extra snaps when a hamstring injury sidelined Covington. Fokou, an incumbent starter, and Moten appear set for a time share on the strong side.

Philistin, who started last year at middle linebacker, and Bullock will split time at weak side linebacker. Both can swing over to middle linebacker to spell Wujciak, a redshirt sophomore who will play this season after losing last year to a torn ACL.

About the only setback during camp was the nagging hamstring injury to presumptive Wujciak backup Ben Pooler. Yet Friedgen remains optimistic about the long-term possibilities for both Pooler and true freshman Demetrius Hartsfield, who arrived in the spring.

“We’re two-deep at every position,” Fokou said. “I think whether you have the first team or the second team on, we don’t skip a heartbeat. We’re just going to keep going.”

That’s what Friedgen wants to hear. After barely surviving last season with a plug-and-play approach at linebacker, one of the Terps’ thinnest units evolved into one of the team’s greatest strengths.

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