Adrian Moten couldn’t hide his excitement on a sun-splashed March morning. Spring practice was under way nearly three months after Maryland’s Humanitarian Bowl victory, and the junior was ready to share his enthusiasm.
He looked around the huddle Tuesday only to find a plethora of linebackers with no history with the Terrapins.
So he told a few jokes, offered some encouragement - anything to get the defense in the mood to move past its relative inexperience.
“That’s what we want our defense to be - aggressive and attacking and a team defense,” Moten said. “We want to create points for our offense and put them in good situations.”
Chances are, it will hinge on how quickly Maryland’s linebackers coalesce into a sound unit.
The Terps lost five of their top eight linebackers from a season ago to graduation, and both incumbent middle linebacker Alex Wujciak and reserve Ben Pooler are recuperating after undergoing knee surgeries.
That leaves Moten, a top reserve and the likely starter on the strong side in the fall, and a whole lot of questions as spring practice begins.
There are possibilities that could emerge in the coming weeks. Former tight end Drew Gloster, who played outside linebacker during the Terps’ bowl practices in December, is manning Wujciak’s spot this spring. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Demetrius Hartsfield has gained 10 pounds and will take over for the graduated Dave Philistin on the weak side.
“I feel a little bit better at linebacker, especially if we get Pooler back and Wujciak back next year,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “What I’m trying to do is get as many reps for these young guys as I can in the spring. I know what Wujciak can do. I just have to get him well. … I’m trying to get us ready to play next year, not this spring.”
If the nominal starters are relatively raw - Moten’s Humanitarian Bowl nod is the only start remaining among the linebacking corps - their backups are downright green.
Darin Drakeford and Avery Murray enrolled a semester early, and both are listed on Maryland’s two-deep this spring. It’s no guarantee that either will play next season (Hartsfield redshirted after arriving early last year), but they do solve the problem of how to survive 15 practices in the next five weeks without performing a campuswide search for options.
“They’ve kind of been a godsend to us,” Friedgen said. “We were kind of depleted at linebacker, and now these two kids come in. Really, they should be seniors in high school and they come in for spring practice, so it gives us some depth.”
The payoff in six months could prove profound. Both Drakeford and Murray will possess a greater grasp on the defense than their counterparts who arrive in August, and they also receive the opportunity to impress new coordinator Don Brown at the same time as the Terps’ holdovers.
Most importantly, Maryland can tolerate their early miscues a lot easier during the spring since mistakes in April don’t carry nearly the same weight as errors in August and beyond.
“I wish I could have done this coming into my college career,” Moten said. “I think it’s the best thing for them. People don’t realize spring ball is a learning tool for everybody. You’re installing everything you’re going to be doing in the fall, and you learn everything now. There’s no games. You might have a scrimmage against the offense, but it isn’t going to count for anything. If you learn everything now, it’ll help you in the fall.”
Notes - Friedgen said left tackle Bruce Campbell and nose tackle Dion Armstrong will not participate in spring drills to concentrate on their academics. The two will participate in meetings but spend time in study hall while the team practices. …
Maryland has moved senior Phil Costa from guard to center. Costa played guard the last two seasons but was Edwin Williams’ backup at center during that time. … Friedgen said safety Kenny Tate, who was recruited as a wideout, will remain on defense. …
Tackle Tyler Bowen, wide receiver Ronnie Tyler and defensive lineman Joe Vellano could return from injuries near the end of next month.