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As Joe Vellano goes, so goes Terps’ defense
If Joe Vellano has somewhat anonymously authored another stellar season for Maryland, it surely isn’t for lack of effort.
Linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield smiled at the mention of the defensive end’s name last week, then described a play from a few days earlier in a loss to N.C. State. Hartsfield was the free man on a toss play and was in line to make a stop.
“I see Joe come out of nowhere, just running as hard as he can and there he goes and makes the tackle on a toss play, which is outside for probably a 1-2 yard gain,” Hartsfield said. “It tells you the passion and energy he plays with.”
That’s nothing new for Vellano, now a three-year constant for the Terrapins (4-4, 2-2 ACC) along the defensive line. An all-ACC pick a year ago, he appears well on his way to a similar honor even if he’s compiled an impressive stat line without much fanfare entering Saturday’s date with Georgia Tech (3-5, 2-3) at Byrd Stadium.
He leads the conference with a 14 tackles for loss, and with 32 for his career, he is tied for eighth on Maryland’s all-time list. His five sacks match a career best, and his 6.5 tackles per game are the most for an ACC defensive lineman.
So why isn’t there an outpouring of plaudits like last season? It might be connected with improved players around him as the Terps have morphed from a sievelike laughingstock into the nation’s No. 4 rush defense and No. 7 total defense.
“I think TFL-wise and sacks is getting up there, but team defense, this is the best defense I’ve been on,” Vellano said. “I think as a whole, I’m doing my job and our linebackers are making a lot of plays that are — not taking any credit away from what they’re doing — [stemming] from what the D-line is supposed to do. I think up front, we’re playing the best [since] I’ve been around.”
Vellano was named the ACC’s defensive lineman of the week for his 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in Saturday’s 20-17 loss at Boston College, the continuation of a remarkably consistent season.
He’s done it at a new position (at end rather than tackle) in a new system under new coordinator Brian Stewart, who is impressed with how Vellano adapted to the changes installed during the offseason.
“He’s doing a great job doing what we ask him to do and understanding his opportunities will come,” Stewart said. “I think when you’re a D-lineman and you know we’re going to be in a 3-4 and you have a chance to freelance, it’s kind of frustrating when you hear about it. He’s taken to it well, and he understands when he’s going to have his opportunities to make some plays and when he’s going to have to be the ultimate team player.”
Often, though, he’s done it in typical Vellano style.
“We call it the Vellano — two guys will have a guy wrapped up, and Joe will come up and grab his legs and yank him away from the other two guys so when the guy hits the ground it’s only him hanging on, and then whichever one of them is the first to jump on gets the assist,” Francis said.
Added Vellano: “It’s just getting in there. That’s just kind of the way I’ve always been. If somebody’s got him wrapped up, take his legs down and pull his leg out and don’t let him get any extra yardage.”
While Francis might notice such hijinks in film study, Vellano continues to plug along. He has at least an assisted tackle for loss in every game this season, and a meeting with the Yellow Jackets is a reminder two of the best games of his career came against triple-option teams (the 2010 opener against Navy as well as last year’s 20-tackle day at Georgia Tech).
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About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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