Terps' D ready for an upgrade

Of all of the new coaches who have been hired in the ACC this offseason, Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has been tasked with one of the more difficult jobs -- at least on paper.

Stewart inherited the nation’s No. 102 scoring defense (34.25 points per game), No. 111 rushing defense (219.75 yards per game), and No. 108 total defense (457.17 ypg).

“I never look at rankings,” Stewart said. “If you get caught up in the rankings, you can get discouraged, or you can start patting yourself on the back. First of all you have to believe in your system, you look at the people who are going to play in your system, and you look at the guys who are going to teach your system. If you can get those three things to jive, then you’ve got a chance to be successful, and that’s how I look at it.”

Based on what he’s seen this offseason, Stewart said he already has two thirds of the equation solved, as coach Randy Edsall and the other assistants are all on board with switching to a 3-4 scheme. Only when the Terps start spring practices on Saturday, though, will Stewart learn if the players are also buying in. The first few practices will be filled with a lot of installation, and will be pivotal in revealing how quickly the players can learn the scheme and how it’s being taught.

“Once people believe,” Stewart said, “they make it work.”

The good news? The only way for Maryland to go is up.

Stewart will introduce a pressure defense -- not just blitzing on every play and every down, but pressure meaning when the receivers are trying to catch the ball, the defensive backs are in a place where they can contest every catch, and the opposing coordinator and quarterback can’t tell who’s coming and who’s not from the seven players at the line of scrimmage.

Stewart said he has tried to evaluate the skill sets of the players he has inherited as opposed to the previous system they were playing in. Stewart said he was specifically interested in how his defenders fared against Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and West Virginia.

“I look at it every day,” he said, “over and over.”

On Saturday, he’ll finally get his first live look.

Eleven of Maryland’s top 13 tacklers from 2011 return, including linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, who had a team-high 108 tackles, and safety Eric Franklin, who was second with 106. Six of the top seven sack producers from 2011 also return, including Andre Monroe, who had five, the second most by a Maryland freshman in the past nine years. Maryland also welcomes back Joe Vellano, who led the FBS last season in tackles by a defensive lineman with 7.8 per game. A total of 16 defenders have starting experience. It was a young, injury-laden group in 2011 that now faces a much-needed overhaul.

“We just had a defensive meeting [Tuesday] morning and just the way [Stewart] is really upbeat is really good,” Vellano said. “We are really working on getting this defense down and getting that work in off the field as well. We have a lot of new guys in positions to make plays and I think it really just fits us personnel-wise."