By: Eddie Hobbs
Maryland football released their depth chart on Tuesday and gave everyone an idea of who will be out on the field against No. 23 Texas come Saturday. On Wednesday, Eric Myers went over what the offense will look like, and now I will be previewing the other side of the ball for 2018.
The defensive line for Maryland this year will look drastically different than in 2017, which the program hopes will lead to drastically different results. Maryland ranked 92nd in rushing defense, allowing 190 yards per game. In the 2017 campaign, seven teams rushed for over 200 yards, a number that the team would love to see come down tremendously.
The only thing that is troublesome is that new doesn’t always equal better play. The projected nose tackle Adam McLean has made one start in his collegiate career, totaling 11 tackles and no sacks. Defensive tackle Mbi Tanyi offers a little more experience as he made nine starts along the line last year. Tanyi recorded a career-high seven tackles against Michigan State, and registered one sack against Towson.
The biggest addition to the defensive line will be the former five-star Florida product, Byron Cowart, who transferred from Auburn. Cowart doesn’t necessarily jump off the page with impressive statistics, but he has the tools to be a productive piece to Maryland’s struggling pass rush.
The return of Jesse Aniebonam will prove to be instrumental for pass rushing success for Maryland in 2018. The redshirt senior will look to remain healthy throughout the season after suffering a season-ending injury against Texas. His injury left the pass rush non-existent for the Terps last season. Maryland totaled just 16 sacks on the season, which is just 1.3 sacks per game, good for 113th in the nation.
It is no secret that Maryland will miss the likes of Jermaine Carter Jr., Shane Cockerille and Jalen Brooks. Maryland’s defense is subject to different looks and packages but could mainly feature two linebackers on the field during nickel packages. That is where Isaiah Davis and Tre Watson come into play.
It isn’t like Maryland will have brand new linebackers behind the defensive line, but Watson is new to the program since he is a graduate transfer from Illinois. Watson was a very productive player for the Fighting Illini when he was on the field, as he posted 65 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one interception last year despite missing three games with an injury.
Davis enters his junior season with familiarity, having been with the program since 2015. The linebacker appeared in 12 games last year and made nine starts. He certainly left his mark as a dynamic player for the Terps’ defense, making 70 tackles—third on the team—while also totaling two tackles for loss.
The defensive backfield represents arguably the strongest group on the whole team behind the running back group. With the likes of Antoine Brooks, Jr. Marcus Lewis, Ravon Davis, Tino Ellis and Qwuantrezz Knight the coaching staff has a lot of decisions to make in regard to who gets playing time, and how much.
On the depth chart, Ravon Davis is listed as a possible starter on either side of the field, with Marcus Lewis and Tino Ellis sitting at the top of each category.
Both Lewis and Ellis sit at 6’1”, give off the look of what everyone is looking for in a corner back these days, tall and lengthy. Davis is no slouch himself, sitting at 5’10” and 178 pounds, the senior defensive back is aggressive enough to stick with receivers, and can break off to make a tackle, something he proved last year.
JC Jackson leaving with one year of eligibility left obviously hurts Maryland, but the team has enough talent to make up for Jackson departing from College Park.
Brooks is another guy to keep an eye on this season. The junior backer can be used anywhere on the field, with his specialty being in the nickel package. Brooks has shown that he can cover anyone on the field, while demonstrating the ability to come downhill and make big tackles in the backfield. He also showed his talent by running about 73 yards for a touchdown off a blocked field goal against Texas last season.
The safety position will be manned by Darnell Savage Jr. and Antwaine Richardson. Savage is one of the leaders on the Terps’ defense and with his recognition as one of the top safety prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft by Pro Football Focus, it shows that he can also produce on the field.
Savage led the team with eight pass breakups and was tied for the lead in interceptions with three in 2017. He was one of the players that contributed to a 14-point comeback against Indiana by corralling an interception and blocking a field goal and returning it 16 yards for a score.
Richardson had a very scary injury against Texas last season as he had to be carted off the field after being down on the field for several minutes. Richardson recovered and made three starts throughout the season and made a career high seven tackles against Penn State and made one tackle for a loss against Michigan State.
While Maryland gave up a conversion rate of 49 percent to offenses last season, an improved pass rush can help the guys behind them. It is something that the team must focus on for this season.