Maryland’s senior-laden linebacking corps was supposed to be its strength on defense this season.
So it’s no surprise the Terrapins‘ best defensive player (Moise Fokou) was a linebacker. Or that the one Maryland defender to make even the all-conference second team (Alex Wujciak) was a linebacker.
Indeed, there was plenty of stability at the Terps’ main positions. Fokou, Wujciak and Dave Philistin combined for 38 of 39 starts, with Philistin coming off the bench in the season opener against Delaware. All of them played a ton in 2008.
Some of it was necessity. Fokou’s backup, Adrian Moten, missed October with a broken wrist and safety Antwine Perez was borrowed from the secondary to provide depth. Ben Pooler, in theory Wujciak’s backup, tore an ACL in practice in September and barely played as a redshirt freshman.
The three starters were generally durable, though Philistin missed much of the N.C. State game with a shoulder injury. Chase Bullock rolled up 11 tackles in his stead in what was the fifth-year senior’s finest game.
Put together, they provided Maryland with a competent linebacking corps. Fokou, the former walk-on by way of Division III Frostburg State, was especially active for nearly the entire season.
Then there was the LEO position, the end-linebacker hybrid that wasn’t especially effective for the fourth straight season and might be retired with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Don Brown next season.
Four-year starter Trey Covington was the primary occupant of the position and managed a career-low 38 tackles (including three TFL and 2.5 sacks). Senior Rick Costa was an effective, and arguably better, change of pace (22 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 sacks). But he was arrested on assault charges in early November and suspended for the final four regular-season games.
Derek Drummond earned some time late in the season after Costa’s legal problems, and when both Covington and Drummond misbehaved in Boise, Jared Harrell held up capably during the Humanitarian Bowl.
Still, that position was an abyss of production in most situations. Certainly, Costa in particular could be a useful third-down rusher. But Shawne Merriman walked out the door after the 2004 season, and the Terps have never received much from the position in the post-Lights Out era.
Including the LEO with the linebackers (which is probably more appropriate than sticking it with the defensive line, in part because the position was handled by the outside linebackers coach) means the overall evaluation of the unit suffers more than it should.
Fokou was fantastic for much of the season, playing through plenty of nagging injuries while using his athleticism to roll up a team-high five sacks.
Wujciak at times looked like a guy who hadn’t played in two years because of a redshirt and an ACL tear, but at others (like in the bowl game) was precisely what Maryland needed at middle linebacker. Assuming he overcomes his recent knee surgery, he’s a lock to remain entrenched at the position for two more seasons.
Philistin, with the help of his altitude machine, moved over from middle linebacker to Erin Henderson‘s old spot on the weak side. He was just as capable there as he’d been a year earlier.
Of the reserves, it was clear Moten was the most versatile and headiest of the bunch. After two years as a super sub, he’ll be starting somewhere next season. As well he should.
Overall, the linebackers (in spite of the LEO spot) were the biggest positive in a scheme fans often maligned. But after Wujciak and Moten, there are a whole lot of questions entering 2009.
It might not be a strength next season. It could be a weakness, given the lack of obvioys depth. And that could be a very new thing to those accustomed to seeing E.J. Henderson, Leon Joe, D’Qwell Jackson, Erin Henderson, Merriman and others ably fill those roles this decade.
—- Patrick Stevens