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17 Maryland

Aug. 16, 2004
Aug. 16, 2004

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Aug. 16, 2004

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17 Maryland

The ACC’s stingiest defense has lost key personnel, but thanks to D’Qwell Jackson, none of its sting

No one in College Park knew what to expect when D’Qwell Jackson, then a sophomore, replaced Butkus Award winner E.J. Henderson at middle linebacker last year. While the 6'1", 222-pound Jackson was quick to the ball and a solid tackler, he also weighed 30 pounds less than his predecessor. Any doubts about his ability, though, were dispelled in the Terps’ second game of the season, against Florida State. Jackson intercepted Chris Rix’s first pass, then flattened Rix and running back Lorenzo Booker en route to the end zone for a 58yard touchdown return. “D’Qwell lined up like he’d been waiting in the wings for years,” says defensive coordinator Gary Blackney. “He’s a knee-bender--a striker. At this stage of his career he might be slightly ahead of E.J.”

This is an article from the Aug. 16, 2004 issue Original Layout

A second-team All-ACC selection, Jackson made 136 tackles in 2003, the most on an athletic defense that led the conference in fewest points allowed (15.8 per game) and fewest yards per game (308.4). With his weight up to 231 to start his junior year, he will contend for his own Butkus Award this fall. “I was the new guy last year, and my job was to win the confidence of the 10 other guys out there with me,” he says. “This year it’s my role to lead them.”

Says Blackney, whose defense in three years at Maryland has yet to yield more than 20 points per game, “D’Qwell is one of those players who right away can understand every position. It’s like when some people can go up to an easel and paint without ever taking an art lesson. He’s just very intelligent and able to see the big picture.”

Teaming with Jackson will be linebacker turned defensive end Shawne Merriman, a 6'4", 245pound junior who wreaked havoc on opponents despite playing with torn cartilage in his left knee last season. Though Maryland lost seven defensive starters, Blackney’s run-blitzing defense relies on speed and athleticism, which the Terps have in abundance. “Our system will be severely tested this year,” says Blackney, “but we have good, intelligent players to plug in.”

Jackson isn’t worried about all the new personnel. Whoever is out there will have to answer to him. “I put more pressure on myself than anybody else can,” he says. “Every day will be a challenge, but we’re going to be ready to go.” --M.B.

FAST FACTS

2003 RECORD 10–3 (6–2, 2nd in ACC)

FINAL AP RANK 17

RETURNING STARTERS 9

KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)

RB Josh Allen (Jr.)

5.4 yards per carry in 246 career attempts

LB D’Qwell Jackson (Jr.)

10 quarterback hurries , 21‚ÅÑ2 sacks, two INTs

G C.J. Brooks (Sr.)

Surrendered only one sack in 740 snaps

DE Kevin Eli (Sr.)

Terps’ most improved defensive player in ’03

DE Shawne Merriman (Jr.)

Tied for second in ACC with 81‚ÅÑ2 sacks

TELLING NUMBER 2

Punt returns for touchdowns needed by senior Steve Suter to break the NCAA career record of seven, shared by three players.

BREAKOUT PLAYER

Vernon Davis, an athletic 6'3", 239-pound sophomore who has set several weight-room records, will get plenty of touches in the hybrid H-back role, lining up at fullback, tight end or wide receiver. “If he does what he’s supposed to do,” says tight ends coach Ray Rychleski, “H-back is going to be a very exciting position this year.”

SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 NORTHERN ILLINOIS

        11 TEMPLE

        18 at West Virginia

        25 at Duke

Oct. 9 GEORGIA TECH

        16 N.C. STATE

        23 at Clemson

        30 FLORIDA STATE

Nov. 6 at Virginia

        18 at Virginia Tech

        27 WAKE FOREST

COLOR PHOTODOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGESLOCKDOWN Jackson (52) takes over as leader of a Terrapins unit that held foes to under 16 points a game in ’03.