Maryland positional preview: Linebackers

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Too much, at times, can be made of the past in sports – and much anything else for that matter.

Just because Notre Dame was historically a football heavyweight, it doesn’t mean it always will be.

Same goes for North Carolina in basketball (just ask Matt Doherty).

And when was the last time the Montreal Canadiens were a regular contender for the Stanley Cup?

And so on.

But over a smaller period of time, evoking the past isn’t such a bad idea.

For example, Maryland’s primary starting linebacking corps has featured at least one future NFL draft pick in all but one of the last nine seasons.

The exception? The David Holloway-Erin Henderson-Trey Covington-Wesley Jefferson quartet in 2006, and let’s not kid ourselves – it was shocking when Henderson went undrafted in April 2008 after leaving school a year early.

In that time, E.J. Henderson started at Maryland. So did Shawne Merriman. And Leon Joe. And D’Qwell Jackson. And Moise Fokou.

It doesn’t matter whether one of those guys was a Florida native the Sunshine State powers had interest in (Jackson) or if another was effectively-though-belatedly left on the Terps’ front porch by the recruiting stork (Fokou).

The last time Maryland’s linebacking situation was a nightmare was … well, really, I don’t know. I’d guess the early-to-mid 1990s at some point, but that’s not as informed as it should be.

The point is, the Terps do some things really well. Like tight ends. And punters. And linebackers.

(There are some things they don’t do quite as well, but those quibbles are for future preview posts).

So while past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, it sure gives you some reason to believe a program that’s found ways to uncover good linebackers for the last decade has stockpiled some more, even if they aren’t quite as tested.

Although the Terps lost five of the eight guys on their two-deep from last year, it ignores a simple truth – there are not nearly the same scarcity issues at linebacker than at other positions.

It’s hard to find big guys to play on the lines. It’s difficult to lure quick, shifty guys to play wide receiver and cornerback. And good luck signing that cornerstone quarterback who does everything a coach could dream of – from practicing well to playing better to kissing babies at fan events.

That’s not to say there’s no skill to playing linebacker. There is. It’s just there are a lot more instinctual players who aren’t so mammoth they’d play the line and a step or two slow to play in the secondary.

So in review: Maryland typically has a solid-to-above-average group of linebackers, and compared to other positions there’s more quality options more easily available. Sounds like as good a place to have a perceived hole as anywhere.

The truth is, the Terps really don’t have much of one. Adrian Moten has made Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen downright giddy since the day he stepped on campus. Same goes for Alex Wujciak, at least when he’s healthy.

Friedgen had to hold himself back last fall from using true freshman Demetrius Hartsfield, the heir apparent at the weak-side spot vacated by Dave Philistin. Hartsfield looked good in the spring, and seems like a good bet to earn a nod against California.

And just like that, there’s three starting linebackers.

Then there’s Drew Gloster, the converted tight end who took to middle linebacker while Wujciak was rehabbing. And Avery Murray and Darin Drakeford, a pair of pseudo-freshmen who enrolled a semester early to get a head start. Friedgen was also pleased with walk-on Hakeem Sule, who already received some time on special teams last year.

(EDIT: Totally forgot about Ben Pooler, who underwent ACL surgery last October. He’s a bit of a wild card because of the injury, but he’s certainly still around).

Oh, and Maryland’s incoming recruiting class features even more linebackers.

Yes, there’s inexperience, and Friedgen should be a bit worried about depth. Any coach would want to stagger those half-dozen or so freshmen into separate classes for down the road.

But with Moten and Wujciak, the Terps enjoy a couple sure things who will probably earn their share of praise throughout camp and then the season. Moten, with his penchant for capitalizing on his blitz opportunities, might be one of the big winners in new coordinator Don Brown’s scheme.

For the most part (the fallow period for the now-eliminated LEO position post-Merriman as an exception), the Terps haven’t faced voids at linebacker. It’s no guarantee that will continue – and injuries could create some headaches – but until proven otherwise it just shouldn’t be as large a concern as some folks would have you believe.

Patrick Stevens

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