While we won’t be naive (and/or like Rick Reilly/Peter King/insert-your-own-cliched-columnist) and claim there’s some sort of pristine or pure honor in playing out your four years that other players just don’t get to experience, we’d still like to point out the senior players that are likely to stand out in 2012. These players have put in the time during their college careers, and now serve as the cornerstones of their respective teams’ potential success this season.
We’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his team, and why. Have a different thought on the matter? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
The 2011 Maryland Terrapins had too many problems to properly address in just one post, which unfortunately managed to overshadow solid individual play. With that sham of a season behind them, this year’s team is looking to learn from the many, many mistakes, and get back to playing competitive football. That process could very well start on the defensive end (retooling from last year’s 34.2 points allowed per game) and anchor D-lineman Joe Vellano.
As a fifth-year senior, Vellano’s seen it all at Maryland — from the success and failure of former coach Ralph Friedgen, to Randy Edsall’s debacle in year one on the job. If the 2012 Terps hope to make progress from 2-10, it’ll take senior leadership stepping up to pave the way for a very young squad overall. Vellano, who was recently named to the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list, appears up to the task, however. Despite the poor team play, Vellano lead all FBS linemen last season with 7.8 tackles per game (in 12 starts). From sacks to turnovers to general run-stopping, the New York native has established himself as an unheralded, yet feared stopper.
If his numbers weren’t impressive enough in years past, Vellano will get to plug his skill set into a 3-4 alignment for 2012, too. As a mostly interior presence these past three years, he’s still managed to pick his spots and make an impact both in run- and pass-defense. With the switch to the 3-4 though, it’s likely we’ll see Vellano lined up slightly more to the outside, working mostly as a defensive end. His quickness, combined with the extra help from the linebacking corps, should be a huge assist in run-stopping. Plus, lined up outside, he’ll get additional chances in blitz packages. If the Terrapins have any hope of winning more than four games, it likely rests on senior defenders — especially Vellano — to make their presence known throughout games and actively affect play-calling.
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