Maryland linebacker Ben Pooler is expected to miss his junior season after suffering an apparent ACL tear on Wednesday.
It is the second ACL tear in Pooler's career; he underwent surgery in 2008 to fix damage on his other knee early that season.
Pooler was expected to back up Demetrius Hartsfield at weak side linebacker. Pooler started five games last season while Hartsfield was recovering from an injury.
"We haven't got the MRI, but that's what Dr. [Craig] Bennett thinks it is," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Everybody heard a pop. He just cut on it. It hurts our team. In the positions we're deep at, we're starting to get thin at. But we have to go on."
As an initial response, Maryland moved Ryan Donohue from his backup middle linebacker spot to the weak side. Freshman David Mackall becomes the top backup in the middle.
But that might not be the last of the shuffling. Reserve defensive ends Bradley Johnson and Marcus Whitfield, who converted from linebacker in the spring, could head back to provide reserve help. One guy who won't move is starting defensive end Drew Gloster, who was the top reserve middle linebacker last year.
"Those are the two guys who were with me before, so one of those two would be a likely candidate," linebackers coach Al Seamonson said of Johnson and Whitfield. "It won't be Gloster. We'd want a guy who's a little more space-oriented. The potential of a Whitefield or a Bradley Johnson is tehre, but we don't really want to."
Pooler's injury amplifies the loss of sophomore Avery Murray just before the start of camp. Murray left the team for personal reasons, and he probably would have been in line to take over as Hartsfield's top backup if he was still in College Park.
Instead, the Terrapins are suddenly facing depth issues at a position they didn't expect to deal with such problems.
"The thing that really hurts us is obviously Avery Murray not coming back," Seamonson said. "We'd have been fine with an injury with Murray back, but for whatever reason he don't want to play. It's shocking to me, especially when it happened that late in the summer, a week before we go to camp."
Pooler was injured during a pass rush drill involving linebackers and running backs. He planted awkwardly, and Friedgen said he heard a pop.
"It's a big blow for us," senior linebacker Alex Wujciak said. "He was playing pretty well. He could have played Mike if we needed him to, and it's obviously his second knee injury. It's real devastating for the defense."
It will be especially difficult for the affable Pooler, who had 43 tackles (6.5 for loss) and three sacks a year ago. He played in only one game in 2008, tearing an ACL in an early-season blowout defeat of Eastern Michigan.
Pooler rehabbed in time to be ready for last season, then stepped in when Hartsfield was injured. Pooler's performance was enough to instill confidence in coaches he would be an important piece this season even if he didn't start.
Given the timing of the injury and his history, it seems plausible Pooler could petition for a medical hardship. Former Maryland cornerback Richard Taylor received a sixth season after suffering multiple ACL tears and wrapped up his career last year.
"I don't know if he can get another year of eligibility for this one," Seamonson said. "Maybe he can, because he's had two knee [injuries] and missed two years now because of it. That's possible. He'd be a candidate for that sixth year. But he's got one more year coming up and that's how Ben has to look at it: 'I got to get bacl healthy, I have one more chance to play, I'm going to be a senior next year and I want to go out with a bang.'"