Cockerille finds his place, and wants to find the quarterback
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⁄