- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trey Covington heard the rumors Maryland’s defensive scheme could change in some way during the winter. He just didn’t happen to be in the Terrapins’ team house when it happened.

The fifth-year senior, a three-year starter at Maryland’s hybrid lineman-linebacker position, missed an offseason meeting during which the changes were unfurled. Soon enough, he encountered teammates whose positions were shifted or tweaked.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Covington said. “I didn’t know where I was playing. I thought I might be a defensive tackle or something. I had no clue.”

Covington can rest easy. Rather than a startling move inside this spring, his LEO (linebacker-end option) position now possesses more of the characteristics of a traditional linebacker and fewer of the traits of a down lineman.

And that’s fine with Covington, a 240-pounder who often tangled with hefty offensive tackles over the last three seasons.

The LEO spot was perfectly suited to former Terp Shawne Merriman, who started for three years. His versatility and ability to both blitz and drop back into pass coverage made it an ideal way to take advantage of his freakish athleticism.

Covington was frequently used in the pass rush during his career. But it hasn’t always worked — he has 6½ career sacks, and he delivered his only two sacks last year in the Emerald Bowl loss to Oregon State.

There are other reasons for changing the defensive scheme. The Terps lost two starters on their defensive line and shifted former end Jeremy Navarre inside. With a glut of linebackers likely when camp arrives — starters Moise Fokou and Dave Philistin are out for the spring with shoulder injuries — it made sense to tailor this year’s scheme to that strength.

And that meant unleashing Covington from the line.

“We’re anxious to see if he can do it,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “He’s going to play more at the second level as a linebacker. He’ll still play his old position, but now he can go as an inside backer too. That’s a little different for him.”

There are benefits to the rest of the defense. The Terps haven’t recorded 30 sacks in a season since 2003. And a unit that ranked ninth in the ACC in both total defense and sacks must make some effective tweaks heading into next season.

Tinkering with Covington’s position — and creating several new looks as a result — could prove to be one of them.

“It allows you to rush from different angles,” defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. “It allows you to drop from different angles. It gives you different blitz formations. It changes up the identification for the offense.”

It should also make things measurably easier for Covington. He often yielded more than 50 pounds to an opponent and he had three years to learn the value of that strength differential.

While he’s still learning to instinctively react rather than think through his on-field situation, he’s also eager to make his adjusted position work.

“It’s energy-consuming, being underweight and being on the line,” Covington said. “I stay a little bit fresher. The most I had to take was 80-something snaps in one game, and I was dead tired. When I get a chance to step back and run normal without a 300-pound tackle laying on me, I’ll have more energy for the rest of the game.”

And that could help him all around — particularly if he’s plugged back into his accustomed role of pass rusher.

“He’s still in the same old spot,” Friedgen said. “It’s just we’re doing more things with him.”

Note: Tackle Scott Burley has a sprained knee and is expected to miss two weeks.

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