As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
Lost in the quagmire that was the 2011 Maryland Terrapins football season was a very good effort by then-junior defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Despite being the only true D-line target for blockers to key in on, Vellano still managed to put up game after game of gaudy tackling numbers. Most notably, his 20-stop demolition of Georgia Tech in a close 21-16 loss provided a stern reminder that while he was stuck on Randy Edsall’s sinking ship, he would not be contributing to the team’s death.
Heading into his senior year with the Terps, Vellano has picked up quite a few honors without even stepping on the field. Despite the team’s lack of success last season, he finds himself an All-American (second-team) and an All-ACC first-teamer. To top it all, he’s already been named to the watch list for five different honors: the Bednarik, Lombardi and Camp awards, along with the Nagurski and Outland trophies. All that for having the highest per-game tackles average among FBS linemen last year? Sounds like a good deal.
With all of those expectations, however, Vellano must find a way to live up. Even if Maryland is still sporting low expectations as the year begins, all eyes will be on the defensive tackle to see how he performs. With a new 3-4 defensive scheme in place, he’ll also be presented with the opportunity to line up at DE, which could greatly assist his draft stock. These past few years in the 4-3, he’s seen extended time at tackle, which assists his overall stops. But, at the same time, you don’t see a lot of sacks from Vellano. Lining up on the outside now, that may all change, and we could see a bigger, albeit different year from the senior overall. With his quickness and nose for the ball, there’s little doubt about the impact he’ll continue to make, regardless of where he lines up.