Jaishawn Barham might be Maryland football’s best pass rusher. Through four games, he leads the Terps with two sacks and his six pressures are second most on the team.

He’s done that despite sparingly going after the quarterback. He’s rushed on only 25 of his 124 total snaps this season — the 12th most on the team, according to Pro Football Focus. Barham has dropped back into coverage more than twice as frequently as he’s rushed the passer. 

Perhaps Maryland’s most versatile defender on a unit full of them, Barham has been a catalyst for a defense that’s allowed the 11th fewest points and forced the joint-second most turnovers in FBS. He’s rarely asked to do what he might be best at, but he’s proved he’s just as capable in filling the other duties of an off-ball linebacker. 

Barham’s skills in coverage have improved in his sophomore season, coach Michael Locksley said. It’s the primary responsibility of an inside linebacker and what Barham has done on more than 44 percent of his snaps this year, per Pro Football Focus. 

He’s particularly excelled at defending play action, when the offense fakes a run in an attempt to bait the defense in and throw behind them.  

Here, Barham correctly identified the fake then darted to his coverage assignment, using his speed to chase down Michigan State quarterback Noah Kim’s target. Kim’s throw was off-line, but Barham was there to stop the play for a short gain or disrupt the pass. The incompletion forced a second-and-10, and Beau Brade intercepted Kim three plays later.

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Barham is almost exclusively asked to play zone coverage in Maryland’s zone-heavy scheme, Locksley said. He typically blitzes when the Terps play man coverage. Barham has given up just 34 receiving yards on six targets in coverage this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

As the inside linebacker, Barham is also tasked with making pre-snap adjustments and checks, a role Locksley’s seen the sophomore grow in as he’s gained experience.

“I haven’t seen there be any deficiencies,” Locksley said on Barham’s coverage skills. “The understanding and knowledge of where he wants to be or where he needs to be in relation to our coverage scheme, he has a great understanding of it.”

Playing the run as an off-ball linebacker requires Barham to effectively fill gaps along the line of scrimmage and chase down ball carriers running laterally. The sophomore can do both.

Twice in Maryland’s win over Virginia, Barham played a significant role in impressive run stops.

Midway through the first quarter on the Cavaliers’ last scoring drive of the game, Barham squeezed through a narrow gap between offensive lineman to misdirect the ball carrier away from his blocks and instead back inside toward Quashon Fuller, who helped Barham make the tackle.

The linebacker displayed his lateral speed on a similar play in the second quarter. Virginia’s right guard quickly got to the second level hoping to push Barham out of the play. Instead, he pulled the guard along with him as he eyed a tackle.

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Barham remained engaged with his block, which he used to further clog the running lane, but was able to disengage when necessary and kept his eyes in the backfield. The running back pummeled into and bounced off the guard before Barham threw his block to the side and brought the runner down.

Still, chasing the quarterback remains Barham’s strength. He’s most dangerous lined up on the edge outside a tackle or tight end, where he’s aligned on all of his pass rush snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus. His best showing in this setting came in the Terps’ win over Charlotte.

On third-and-9 shortly after Maryland took its first lead of the night, Barham exploded out of his stance and got deep upfield before quarterback Jalon Jones got rid of the ball. Barham ripped through the 49ers’ right tackle to sack Jones and force a punt.

Barham’s improvements in his second season have helped the Terps establish themselves as one of the nation’s top defenses through four games under second-year coordinator Brian Williams. Barham is notoriously soft-spoken, an atypical trait of a cornerstone defender. But on the field, his play holds more weight than his words.

“Jaishawn is one of our leaders,” Locksley said. “As we enter into our conference season, we realize we’re gonna need him.”