Returning pieces and portal additions revamp Maryland’s defensive line

Maryland is tasked with replacing all three starters along the defensive line ahead of the 2023 season, but there’s a reason why there is quiet confidence around the unit with fall camp officially underway.

“We rotated a bunch of players a year ago,” head coach Mike Locksley said on Wednesday. “Guys like Tommy Akingbesote was similar to a starter in terms of how much he played. Taizse [Johnson] played a ton of reps in the last couple of years. Bringing in Tre Colbert, Jordan Phillips helps us with that void, but coach Williams has done a great job of keeping guys fresh. Guys and names that you don’t hear of like the Isaac Bunyan’s of the world that, Christian Teague’s of the world. We had Greg Rose a year ago too just pop up.

Jordan Phillips announced his transfer to Maryland just three days after leaving Tennessee, giving the unit a multi-year starter to rebuild the defensive line. It took longer than head coach Mike Locksley and the staff may have wanted, but Phillips’ decision to transfer to College Park came roughly one year after the Terps were a finalist for the high three-star out of Ocoee (FL), securing a summer official visit before eventually committing to Tennessee.

The familiarity not just with the program, but the defensive coaches helped Maryland add an impact addition.

“Coming out of high school, I already took the official visit, already knew the coaching staff. It was a familiar relationship so once I hit the portal, they reached out to me,” Phillips said. “It was like I’ve already been up there, I’ve already seen the campus. I know that you guys are great people, there’s nothing else left except to commit and make this thing happen.”

Shortly after, Phillips and defensive coordinator Brian Williams began meeting over Zoom to get him acclimated to the Terps’ scheme. “We started looking at installs, talking ball and things of that nature,” Phillips added.

Phillips has gradually ascended through the program to become an impact piece heading into fall camp, but the demeanor and work ethic that he’s carried through the offseason has been hard to miss.

“Jordan has a lot of leadership qualities. He works extremely hard, and I think that’s the first thing. Guys see a guy come in, one, adapt to how we’re doing things and then apply his work ethic to it,” Brian Williams added. “He’s not afraid to let guys know when they’re not getting it done, and then at the same, if someone sees him not getting it done, he takes it. Trust is built and when it happens, it happens fast for a guy like Jordan because he came in and bought in.”

Former Angelo State lineman Tre Colbert, a former All-LSC first-team defense selection, gives the interior line experience in the rotation.

“He’s a fifth-year guy, senior, understands it. Very appreciate of being here and he’s a hard worker as well,” defensive coordinator Brian Williams added.

Five starters return from a defense that showed signs of optimism during the 2022 season, specifically the second-half adjustments through conference play that helped Maryland finish 11th in the country in second-half scoring defense last season (8.9 pts). While none of the five returners are in the trenches, there’s still a level of familiarity within the system.

“The unique thing about the University of Maryland is that in practice if you’re a guy who doesn’t really play like that, you’re still getting reps in like you’re a starter because the thing is if something happens to the point where you need to be put in the game, it won’t be such a shock to you because you’ve gotten so many reps in practice that it’ll just be like second-hand nature,” Phillips added. “So, a lot of the guys who are making appearances that [are] starters now, they’ve been playing a lot of snaps in last year’s practice consistently. Their faces might be new to the nation, but in all reality, they’re really veterans.”

“The way we play defense, we have the bodies,” Locksley added. “I think you’ll see some of these young players like Dillan Fontus, who came in in the spring, early grad, you’ll see his development kind of expedite itself because of the size and strength that he comes in with and being in our weight room, guys like Jordan Phillips, guys like Dillan Fontus have benefited from being here early.”

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