Maryland Football’s linemen could be key to its defense

After reviewing the Terps offense heading into 2022, we continue our football position previews by switching to the other side of the ball to preview what to expect from Maryland’s defensive line this fall.

Maryland is returning a handful of starters from last year’s unit, but it will need them to step up after the graduation of their top defensive lineman – Sam Okuayinonu. He led all of the Terps in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. His loss, along with Darrell Jackson’s departure to Miami, leaves a void that needs to be filled, but an experienced group alongside a few younger options will look to do just that.

“Sat [Okuayinonu], he left us with a great example of what it’s like to be a defensive lineman here in Maryland,” said Greg China-Rose. “We all try to get into that position, you know, just trying to match his intensity that he brought in every day, to match the type of physique he played with every day.

2022 Maryland defensive line depth

PLAYER YEAR 2021 STATISTICS
PLAYER YEAR 2021 STATISTICS
Friend Finau Senior 40 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF
Mosiah Nasili-Kite Senior (RS) 37 tackles, 7 TFLs, 4 sacks
Greg China-Rose Senior (RS) 28 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 TD
Henri Chibueze Senior 18 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks (with Liberty)
Quashon Fuller Junior 8 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack (with FSU)
Tyler Baylor Senior (RS) 9 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack (6 games)
Anthony Booker Jr. Junior (RS) 9 tackles, 1 TFL (5 games)
Taizse Johnson Second year 8 tackles (5 games)
Isaac Bunyun Second year (SR) 6 tackles, 1 INT (6 games)
Riyadh Wilmot Second year (SR) 4 tackles, 0.5 TFL (4 games)
Tommy Akingbesote Second year 3 tackles (3 games)
Zion Shockley Freshman (RS) 1 tackle (1 game)
austin fountain Senior (RS) N / A
Daniel Owens First-year student High School (3-star recruit)
Christian Tague Junior 5 tackles (with Morgan State)

Veterans lead the charge into the trenches

The Terps are firing three defensive linemen who performed well last season and were able to stay on the field for its entire duration. Seniors Ami Finau, Mosiah Nasili-Kite and Greg China-Rose will all be looking to take the next step in their development and bolster Maryland’s rush in a league known for its physicality and athleticism in the trenches.

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Nasili-Kite was a preseason All-Big Ten selection, landing Phil Steele’s first team and Athlon Sports fourth team. He had seven tackles for loss last season, leading all returning players. If Nasili-Kite’s game continues to evolve, he could very well be the Terps’ best defensive lineman this season and has the potential to be one of the best in the Big Ten.

China-Rose is also returning for his senior season in redshirt after a five-sack season in 2021 – the most of any returning player. His performance last season earned him a nomination for the Burlsworth Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top college football player who began his career as an extra.

Finau completes the trio of returning starters on Maryland’s defensive line. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2021 after totaling 40 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack to accompany a forced fumble. He, like Nasili-Kite, is looking to become an even bigger threat to the Big Ten’s many talented offensive lines.

In addition to the returning defensive lineman corps, a pair of transfers will join the unit this fall. Senior Henry Chibueze comes from Liberty, where he had 18 tackles and added two sacks for the Flames in 2021. Junior Quashon Fuller also transferred to Maryland from Florida State this offseason. The former four-star rookie – listed at six-foot-two, 270 pounds – has all the tools needed to burst out and give the Terps pass rush a boost.

“I think when they all came here they all understood what we were trying to achieve,” China-Rose said of the transfers joining the team for the 2022 season.

There are plenty of less experienced defensive linemen who could see significant playing time. Sophomores Taizse Johnson, Isaac Bunyun, Riyad Wilmot and Tommy Akingbesote will all need to be ready to step in and play when called upon. The same goes for junior Anthony Booker Jr. and redshirt senior Tyler Baylor, as well as redshirt senior Austin Fontaine, who moved to the defensive line after mostly blocking as a reserve tight end. and straight guard throughout his career.

Defensive line play could set the tone for the Terps defense as a whole

Whether it’s Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell or one of the many other talented Big Ten quarterbacks, the Terps will need to have an effective pass – or they risk putting their defensive backs in a vulnerable position. Additionally, weaker defensive line performance on ongoing plays puts more stress on linebackers — a position with plenty of question marks after a season that has seen many contributors injured or transferred from the program.

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The general expectation for Maryland this season is that their potentially elite offense will have to support a defense that could be fragile. But, if the Terps defense plays at a higher level than expected, they could find themselves winning a few more games than expected. A team’s defensive line often sets the tone for the rest of the unit, as their play – more than any other in defense – can disrupt an opponent’s rhythm. In short, Maryland’s defensive line production could prove to be among the most important to the team’s success anywhere on the field.

Maryland’s defensive line should know the caller this season, as defensive line coach Brian Williams has been promoted to defensive coordinator this offseason.

“We are behind him against all odds. We will go to war for the coach [Williams] anytime, any day of the week,” China-Rose said. “The defense is rallying behind him because he has never lied to us. He has always remained very transparent.

This familiarity adds to the continuity seen among the experienced big men in the trenches for the Terps this fall. Players and coaches will need to be on the same page to ensure the defense lives up to their potential this season, with many pointing to uncertainties on this side of the ball as a potential weakness for the Terps.

“We have a terrific roster in our defensive staff room right now,” Williams said, praising the cooperation between defensive coaches. “We have a lot of experience and we have youth. We’re able to touch on any challenges, if you will, in terms of just connecting with our players and being on the same page. And because we all know the system very well, we can now talk about the differences much more easily and understand and see it the same way.

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