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Sure, when Randy Edsall took over the Maryland football program, new offensive and defensive schemes and some personnel changes would be imminent. But moving Kenny Tate, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer at safety, to linebacker; well, that surely made a splash.
The Terrapins' second-leading tackler a season ago (100), Tate recorded a team-high four forced fumbles and was tied for the team lead with three interceptions. In addition, he recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in what can only be described as a breakout season for the four-star prospect from nearby DeMatha Catholic High School.
But just as Tate finally seemed to be coming to his own, a switch seemed bewildering.
"We wanted to put him in the position for us," Edsall told reporters after the first week of spring practice in April. "By moving him from safety allowed us to do that, and it made us a faster and quicker defense."
After examining Tate's 2010 campaign on film, which was highlighted by a clutch goal line halt in the opening victory versus Navy, Edsall said Tate played near or on the line of scrimmage on about 90 percent of the plays.
The STAR position is a fusion between strong safety and linebacker. And thus far, the transition has been smooth. With the exception of one game, Tate recorded at least six tackles in each game last year. In his debut as linebacker in the Red-White Spring Game, he finished with 11 tackles, including five solo.
Despite the change, Tate is projected to be one of the top defenders in the nation this year. He has been placed on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player), the Bednarik Award (top defensive player), the Lott Trophy (most impactful defensive player) and the Butkus Award (best linebacker). Tate has also been named to preseason all-conference team.
Tate is also inheriting another important title – team captain. Along with defensive standout Joe Vellano and fellow seniors Davin Meggett and Andrew Gonnella, Tate will serve as a team leader in 2011, leading a collection of mostly veteran crop of players on the defensive side of the ball.
Along with the MIKE backer Demetrius Hartsfield, who has shifted inside with the graduation of Alex Wujciak, and Darin Drakeford (WILL), who has been inserted into the starting lineup after being a top reserve a season ago, all three starting linebackers will begin the season in a different position than in 2010.
Critical to the 2011 season for Maryland, how Tate performs could be a catalyst to the defense as a whole. Even more pressing, it could determine his future in football.
Projected as a safety, According to ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., Tate is the second-ranked prospect at that position in 2012, behind only Alabama's Mark Barron.
On Scout.com's list of the top 32 returning NFL prospects, Tate is considered no. 2 only to Stanford's Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Andrew Luck.
Following the 2010 season, Tate wrestled with the notion of declaring for the draft, but opted to remain in College Park for his senior season. He will enter the year as Maryland's active career leader in tackles (162) and interceptions (5), with a chance to add his name among the elite in the university's record book.