Secondary Embraces New Defensive Scheme
May 4, 2012
By Anna LaBonte, Maryland Athletics Media Relations
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Brian Stewart isn't even into his first season as defensive coordinator and secondary coach, but he's already had a substantial impact on the Maryland football team.
The defense won the Red-White Spring Game, 67-53, on April 21 in a modified scoring system and have embraced Stewart's scheme.
Stewart's overhaul included switching the defense from a 4-3 front to a 3-4. The defensive backs look to improve from last season with a more active role in breaking up the opposing offense.
"We have confidence, swagger, just a killer mentality, I would say for the defense," said cornerback Jeremiah Johnson. "I think that's exactly what we need because we have the type of players who want to be aggressive and are confident. [Stewart] and the other coaches put us in the positions for us to excel the best, so I'm very excited about this defense."
While the scheme has taken adjusting, the defensive backs are enjoying the communication and learning process under Stewart.
"Everyone's communicating, which is something we didn't have last year," said safety Matt Robinson. "I think the fact it's a lot simpler but a lot more aggressive, so everyone's having fun with it. Everyone's just all in. It's definitely more polished than last year.
"We're pressing a lot more this year, so we're not going to be sitting out there on islands as much as we were in the past," he added.
Robinson showed promise last season, starting the first three games at safety before being sidelined by an injury. The Columbia, Md., native ranked second in the ACC and was tied for seventh nationally in tackles per game (12.0) when he had season-ending shoulder surgery.
Despite missing the majority of last season, the redshirt sophomore came forward as a leader for the defense in the spring. Robinson found a silver lining in his injury last fall, using the time off the field to help his teammates.
"I was trying to be a little bit like a cheerleader and a little like a coach last year when I was hurt," said Robinson, one of four defensive backs with starting experience. "I was able to watch a lot of film and learn a lot you might not pick up on when you're actually playing."
Robinson wore a no-contact yellow jersey for the entirety of spring practice, but recorded three tackles and a pass breakup in the spring game.
"[Recovery is] going pretty well -- I just wish I was allowed to hit," he said. "I just like being out here and running around since I was out for so long. I just love playing football, so it's good to be back."
Dexter McDougle enters the 2012 campaign as the No. 1 cornerback, having started all 12 games last year at the position. The Academic All-ACC selection led the Terps with six pass breakups and tied for the team lead in interceptions (three) last season.
McDougle performed well in the defense's spring game win, recording seven tackles and an interception.
"He's stepped up as a leader for the defensive backs and I think he's a guy to definitely watch out for," said Johnson.
A.J. Hendy ended the 2011 season as one of the starting safeties, becoming just the second true freshman (also Robinson in 2010) to start at the position since 1993. In spring practice, the rising sophomore made the move to cornerback, and he recorded six tackles in the spring game at his new position.
Eric Franklin started the entire 2011 season at safety and led the team in solo tackles (64) and was second in total tackles (106). Franklin and fellow senior Clarence Claiborne, who recorded four tackles in the spring game, serve as veteran leadership for the defensive backs.
Junior Isaac Goins transferred from Contra Costa College in January and has two years of eligibility for the Terps. Johnson is a rising sophomore who is likely to receive more playing time in the fall after seeing action in nine games in 2011.
With the multitude of talent and depth at defensive back, the Terps hope to keep the pressure on the offense in 2012.
"We just want to be aggressive this year," said McDougle. "Defense wins championships, so that's what we want to do."