Cock­er­ille finds his place, and wants to find the quar­ter­back

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Don Markus don.markus@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/sport­sprof56

With a shaggy brown beard serv­ing as a sort of fa­cial chin strap, Mary­land line­backer Shane Cock­er­ille is start­ing to have the look of a rugged de­fender.

His sta­tis­tics — a team-lead­ing 32 tack­les, four ahead of es­tab­lished de­fen­sive stars Jer­maine Carter Jr. and Will Likely — show that Cock­er­ille is play­ing the part as well.

His days as a four-star quar­ter­back prospect at Gil­man and a fourth-string backup at Mary­land who was moved to full­back and safety, and back to quar­ter­back dur­ing his first two years with the Terps, are a dis­tant mem­ory.

“Af­ter the first se­mes­ter here, I wasn’t really hav­ing fun play­ing of­fense. It’s def­i­nitely some­thing I wish that was made into a tran­si­tion a lot sooner,” Cock­er­ille said Wed­nes­day.

Cock­er­ille felt that he reached a new level of achieve­ment in last week’s 50-7 home vic­tory over Pur­due in Mary­land’s Big Ten Con­fer­ence opener. On a day when the Terps sacked quar­ter­back David Blough six times, Cock­er­ille got credit for shar­ing one of them.

“I was def­i­nitely want­ing a sack the whole time,” Cock­er­ille said. “I was like, ‘I really need a sack right now.’ I feel pretty good. And a few plays later, it came. That was an ex­cit­ing mo­ment for me.”

Cock­er­ille is hop­ing to add to his team high in tack­les — and maybe get an­other sack or two — when the un­beaten Terps (4-0, 1-0) go to Beaver Sta­dium on Satur­day to play Penn State (3-2, 1-1).

It will also give Cock­er­ille an op­por­tu­nity to re­con­nect with two for­mer Gil­man team­mates, se­nior of­fen­sive line­man Brian Gaia and fresh­man de­fen­sive tackle El­li­son Jor­dan.

“I think ev­ery game we have is a big game — ob­vi­ously they’re a great team,” Cock­er­ille said. “I know some of those guys on that team, so it will be fun to play against those guys. But ev­ery game we have in the Big Ten in Coach Durkin’s first year is a big game for us.”

DJ Durkin, who played line­backer in col­lege, said he has seen tremen­dous growth from Cock­er­ille on and off the field since they first met in De­cem­ber.

“He’s like a dif­fer­ent per­son,” Durkin said Thurs­day. “He was a guy that didn’t quite know what he was go­ing to do, where he was go­ing to play. He was hav­ing some is­sues aca­dem­i­cally. He was kind of a mess. He and I, our re­la­tion­ship has grown and changed since the first day I met him. I’m very proud of him.”

Durkin said Cock­er­ille has a good com­bi­na­tion of phys­i­cal skills and nat­u­ral abil­ity to be suc­cess­ful at line­backer.

“He’s very ath­let­i­cally gifted. He’s got good aware­ness. Things just come nat­u­ral to him at the po­si­tion,” Durkin said. “Maybe to some oth­ers it doesn’t come quite so eas­ily. There’s so much he can im­prove on and clean up.”

Durkin and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Andy Buh see Cock­er­ille’s trans­for­ma­tion un­fold on a week-to-week ba­sis, if not from prac­tice to prac­tice.

“He’s played bet­ter each week, if you can say that about a player, about your team. It’s go­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” Durkin said.

Buh ac­knowl­edges that the num­ber of tack­les Cock­er­ille has made — in­clud­ing a sea­son-high 14 in a dou­ble-over­time win at Cen­tral Florida — is a byprod­uct of the po­si­tion the 6-foot-2, 235-pound ju­nior plays, but there is also some no­tice­able re­fine­ment.

“In his vi­sion, his scope is start­ing to open up,” Buh said Wed­nes­day. “That’s really typ­i­cal for a guy just play­ing that po­si­tion [for the first time]. We start their eyes really nar­row and, as they get reps, their eyes start to open up and they see the big­ger pic­ture. I think that’s been the big­gest growth.”

Buh said he and Durkin al­lowed Cock­er­ille to play through some early mis­takes.

“We’re will­ing to let that de­velop as he goes be­cause he plays so hard,” Buh said. “We talk about that all the time. We haven’t seen the best of Cock­er­ille yet. I think Shane is still de­vel­op­ing, and prob­a­bly al­ways will be at that po­si­tion. He’s get­ting bet­ter each week.”

Said Cock­er­ille: “I’m so much more com­fort­able. Ob­vi­ously, in the spring I was all over the place. The first few games I was still get­ting the jit­ters out, first game start­ing at ’backer. As the weeks have gone on, the more games we’ve played, the more com­fort­able I’ve got­ten, play­ing faster.

“Ev­ery game I play, I play as hard as I can to run to where the ball is. Ob­vi­ously, you never can grow too much — in the eyes and stuff like that. Ob­vi­ously, I feel like I’ve got­ten a lot bet­ter at that, with my eyes and my foot­work. But I feel I al­ways can grow in those two ar­eas.” Satur­day, noon TV: Big Ten Net­work Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Mary­land by 11⁄

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