Monroe brings fire to Maryland defense

When Big Ten fans begin familiarizing themselves with new member Maryland and its personnel, a good place to start is Andre Monroe.

The 5-foot-11, 270-pound senior is the centerpiece of Maryland's defensive line. He led the team in both tackles for loss (17) and sacks (9.5) last season, and tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (2). He also has a goal, which could serve as a nickname of sorts: becoming Maryland's fireball.

The fireball idea first came to Monroe while listening to defensive coordinator Brian Stewart address the defense.

"I don't know why, it just stuck with me," Monroe told ESPN.com. "Fire in general means energy, and I thought, ‘OK, well, I need to be something that's moving around,' so I thought of a fireball. Fireballs need energy to prosper, they're really active, which is how I like to play. And also, it still has to be controlled. Fire can get out of control.

"As a fireball, you can control that intensity and that energy."

Monroe harnessed his energy to finish fifth in the ACC in tackles for loss and tied for sixth in sacks last season, impressive numbers after he missed all of the 2012 campaign with a knee injury. He teamed with linebacker Marcus Whitfield to form one of the league's top pass-rushing tandems.

Monroe's next step is bringing the same production to the Big Ten, where he'll join top pass rushers like Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun, Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Minnesota's Theiren Cockran, and Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Noah Spence.

"I always talk about my passion and love for the game," Monroe said. "That's pretty much all you need to be able to prosper."

Spending a season on the sideline solidified Monroe's sentiment when he returned last fall. Monroe led Maryland in sacks (5) as a redshirt freshman in 2011, earning freshman All-America honors from several outlets.

But coach Randy Edsall announced days before the 2012 opener that Monroe had suffered a non-contact injury and would undergo season-ending knee surgery.

“Going through what I went through as far as the injury and rebuilding myself with rehab, it was reassuring that I really do love this game and I'm willing to go through all this to do something I love," Monroe said. "I can ask myself the same question: 'If I had to go through it all again, would I, just to play the game?'

"My answer will always be yes."

Monroe has played both nose tackle and 5-technique end in Maryland's 3-4 defensive set, but he'll primarily play on the edge as a senior. As Maryland opens spring practice Saturday, Monroe is ready to lead a defensive front that returns intact.

"The history that the conference has, it will be a great opportunity to be a part of that," Monroe said of the Big Ten. "And we're going to be the new kids on the block. A lot of times, that means there's no slack. I definitely expect to get everyone’s best in the conference.

"That's something that our team will take pride in, overcoming challenges."

Maryland's fireball certainly does.