Revamped Defense Won't Mind Getting Dirty
Maryland's defensive linemen quickly bought into first-year defensive coordinator Don Brown's hyper-aggressive 4-3 schemes during spring practice, and for good reason.
"I think in this system, the defensive line gets a lot more love," redshirt freshman A.J. Francis said. "In the old system, our job wasn't to make plays. If we made plays, it was just a plus. Our job was to let the linebackers make plays, keep the guys off the linebackers.
"In this system, everybody's a playmaker and everybody is creating pressure. I got more sacks in the last two scrimmages we had before the spring game than I did the whole season during practices. So we get a lot more pressure on the quarterback; we confuse the quarterback a lot more."
But Francis said the reason the entire defensive warmed so quickly to the new schemes is not just because everyone gets to chase after the guy under center. No, it's more simple than that.
"There's no real pretty boys here," Francis said. "We all like to get dirty. We all like to hit. We like to get down and get to the business of what needs to be done."
And who exactly is the dirtiest defensive player of the bunch?
"The dirtiest guy on the defense?," Francis said. "Terrell Skinner. Without any shadow of a doubt."
When informed of the designation his teammate had laid upon him and asked for his response, Skinner lowered his eyes to the floor and sunk down in his chair. Then the senior free safety declined comment.
But he did speak openly about why he and the rest of the defense embraced Brown's approach without hesitation.
"For me, my mentality has always been like that approaching the defensive side of the ball," Skinner said. "And I think that's one of the reasons why I switched over from offense to defense is that's just my mentality by nature.
"As far as the team goes, I feel like the team has embraced it very well. We go out there at 5:30 in the morning yelling and screaming and hooting and hollering and blitzing and bodies flying everywhere -- just people getting after it. But it's not only the scheme; it's the mentality and the energy and the electricity that Coach Brown brings to the team as a whole. And you know it always starts from the top and trickles down."
Last season, Maryland's defense was led by coordinator Chris Cosh, who was more reserved with his emotions and preferred a more zone-oriented, reactionary defensive approach.
"I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Coach Cosh," Skinner said. "He was my man and all, but last year we had a mentality that, you know, we had to plan for the offense. We had to figure out what the offense was going to do. We had to hold our ground so the offense wouldn't score points. This year it's not like that. The offense has got to be ready for us. They got to be ready for whatever we're going to do. Because we want to get the ball and we want to score. So it's kind of like the opposite, you know what I mean? I think that works for everybody."
Everybody, that is, except for opposing offenses. Junior wide receiver Emani Lee-Odai's experience in dealing with Brown's aggressive schemes is limited to spring practice, but that was enough to notice some obvious developments.
"Our defense is a bunch of animals this year," Lee-Odai said. "Last year we didn't blitz that much. We was more of a sit back, pick when to go and blitz. This year, Coach Brown is balls out ... Coach Brown will have a lot of teams worried."
Skinner also might make a lot of opposing offenses concerned by his presence. In his new role, Skinner said he'll play more one-on-one coverage against tight ends and slot receivers. Or he'll be in the middle of the field. Plus, he said he anticipates blitzing a lot more often this season.
And finally, it was Skinner's turn to make a selection. Who is the defense's dirtiest player?
"The dirtiest guy on the defense?" Skinner said before looking down at his jersey number and smiling sheepishly. "Number one."
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