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Terps are in their first season under defensive coordinator Brian Stewart COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Maryland football team's defense has gone through some changes since the end of last season. With a new coordinator and scheme, the defense, which includes five seniors (Joe Vellano,A.J. Francis, Demetrius Hartsfield, Darin Drakeford, Kenny Tate and Eric Franklin) who have combined to start 120 games and five rising sophomores (Andre Monroe, Keith Bowers, L.A Goree, Alex Twine and A.J. Hendy) who played key roles in 2011, has found improvement through maturity and a high-profile system. "They're starting to gel and come into their own," said head coach Randy Edsall. "I see guys out there that are excited about playing and are doing a pretty good job of executing all the techniques that have been taught." New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart brings an aggressive 3-4 scheme to the Terps this year. Last year, Stewart helped lead the Houston Cougars to a 13-1 record and a No. 14 ranking in the final USA Today poll. The Terps have bought into Stewart's new system this spring, and the defense enjoys his coaching style. "It's so much fun," said defensive lineman Andre Monroe. "We come out there ready with the fire under our butts and we're ready to go. It's really exciting playing for him. I love it." The defensive line is responding well to the new scheme on the field as well. The pace is faster than last season, but the line thinks it will be an advantage for Maryland. "That's what they do in the NFL, and I think bringing it to the college level, we'll have a step up over the rest of the teams," said defensive lineman Isaiah Ross. "I think we're taking it on really well," he added. "I know we're learning a lot more, and faster, than we learned the defense last year. I'm happy with the way things are looking." The defensive line has made improvements despite the absence of some of its important players from last season. Defensive lineman Joe Vellano will miss the rest of spring practice with a foot injury. Linebackers Cole Farrand and Alex Twine have also missed time due to injuries, and linebacker Darin Drakeford will not practice for the rest of the spring to focus on academics. Despite the lack of starters in practice, Stewart saw the shortage as an advantage in the long run.
"The injuries kind of helped us," said Stewart after the team's first scrimmage. "I say that in a good way because with those guys that were injured, those were guys that we knew what they can do. We know their contribution to the team. This gave us the opportunity to look at those young guys and see what they can do." The players also saw the injuries as an opportunity for more people to take responsibility for the quality of the defensive line. "The injuries definitely affected us," said Monroe, "but it just means everyone has to take more reps and step up. Everybody has to do what they're supposed to do so we can keep moving forward." "We've got guys taking a lot more reps," added Ross. "[Injuries are] part of the game; somebody has to come fill in. I think we've had a good transition with it, but we've got to get the other guys healthy so we can all play as one." The Terps have a lot of valuable experience coming back in the fall. Six of the top seven sack producers from 2011 are returning, including Monroe, who led with 5.0 last year. Three of the top seven returning tacklers in the ACC are returning for Maryland, and the five defensemen who received postseason recognition in 2011 are returning for the Terps as well. The most indispensable lineman on the team, Vellano will play a major factor in the Terps' defensive success next season. The 2011 second-team All-American led the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in tackles by a defensive lineman last season. Five defensive players looking to make more of an impact this season were freshmen last year: Twine, Farrand, Gorne, Monroe and Hendy played their first collegiate game in 2011. More than half the team's sacks last season came from freshmen, so the nowsophomores look to contribute more to the team's defense. "It's more competitive [this year], which I think is making the whole team better," said Monroe. The Terps still have a week of practice leading into the Red-and-White Spring Game, but the defense feels the progress already made over spring practice has been insurmountable. "I think we're preparing a lot better [than last year]," said Ross. "We look a lot better, and we're learning a lot quicker. I feel we're more of a team and believe more in the coaches than we did last year. We're a family now."