- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

With an All-American candidate sandwiched between two All-ACC contenders and a reserve who would start on many teams, Maryland has one of the conference’s more feared group of linebackers.

“There’s nothing better than when I look to my left and have Will [Kershaw] by my side and I look to my right and have Dave [Holloway] by my side,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “We want to be one of the best linebacker corps in the country. We want to lead our team.”

Jackson could be the ACC defensive player of the year after falling two votes short last season. The All-American hopeful is bolstered by Kershaw and Holloway, who are considered standout players. The trio’s 46 combined starts are the most in the ACC — one more than the linebackers at Georgia Tech and Boston College. With reserve Wesley Jefferson shuffling both inside and outside, the group is becoming a new type of pops quartet.

They live for the knockdown. Jackson led the ACC with 123 tackles last season. Holloway, meanwhile, has inherited his athletic ability from his father, Brian Holloway, formerly of the New England Patriots, and grandfather, Pie McKenzie, who played in the NHL.

Holloway is becoming a nuisance to quarterbacks with crunching hits.

“When you get three good players together, there’s going to be good competition,” Holloway said. “We challenge each other.”

Kershaw does his part by being physically dominating. Whenever Jackson levels a running back, Kershaw is looking for the next big play. And Jefferson allows members of the trio to take a breather without a letdown.

The Terps’ linebackers stand out on a team with a lot of question marks. While a generally inexperienced offense looks for quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who has one career start, to emerge as its leader, the defense doesn’t have a bunch of graybeards, either. Conrad Bolston, with 10 starts, is the lone returning lineman, and cornerback Gerrick McPhearson (six starts) is the only experienced defensive back.

Everything on defense depends on the linebackers. They have to fill the running lanes. They have to fill the passing lanes. That’s two places at once.

“We have a big responsibility not just because we know we’re up there [with the elite],” Holloway said, “but because of the people we are. We know we’re the heart.”

And Jackson is the old soul. His 24 starts are twice that of the runner-up on the Terps, Derek Miller, who is shifting from tight end to offense tackle. Jackson’s penchant for big plays will be needed to inspire a defense that consistently has ranked among the ACC’s best since coordinator Gary BlackAney’s 2001 arrival.

Jackson has Maryland fans forgetting about predecessor E.J. Henderson, the ACC’s top defensive player in 2001. Indeed, Jackson might be better. He didn’t turn pro in the spring despite receiving a high second-round rating by an NFL personnel panel, instead having offseason wrist surgery.

He could be a first-rounder next year if he can continue to have double-digit tackle games like last year, when he had 18 against Clemson and 16 against Virginia, West Virginia and Georgia Tech.

“Everything revolves around D’Qwell,” Blackney said. “He’s one of the better players I’ve coached.”

The linebackers know offenses can’t single them out to break through the middle of the defense.

“[Confidence is] a residual effect of guys playing together and having success,” Blackney said. “Our linebackers don’t have to worry about one another, but what they do have to worry about right now is how the front and secondary complement them.”

Notes — The Terps reshuffled their defensive line. Freshman Jeremy Navarre will start at end after moving from fullback in the spring. Jack Griffin slid to tackle, and Bolston moved to nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme. … Guards Russell Bonham (shoulder) and Donnie Woods (rotator cuff), fullback Ricardo Dickerson (ankle) and receiver JoJo Walker (hip) returned to practice, while receiver Derrick Fenner (hamstring) is limited.

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