Better or worse? Previewing Maryland’s defense in 2020
Massive defensive struggles played a major role in Maryland’s 3-9 record in its first season under coach Mike Locksley.
Maryland finished last in the B1G in total defense (449.2 yards per game), pass defense (271.3 yards per game) and first downs allowed (23.0 per game). The Terps also ranked 13th in many other defensive areas.
Maryland’s points allowed per game increased by 6 points last season to a whopping 34.7 (115th nationally). The defense surrendered at least 40 points in 5 games, emphasized by a season-high of 73 at Ohio State.
Maryland defensive coordinator Jon Hoke will have to integrate plenty of new personnel as he attempts to rebuild the shaky unit. Maryland returns only 4 scholarship seniors. Areas of concern include the defensive line and cornerback spots, as many underclassmen will be depended on due to the lack of depth.
Can the Maryland defense take a step forward or will the woes ensue in 2020? Let’s explore:
Pressuring the QB: Worse
Beyond standout linebacker Keandre Jones (7 sacks, 15.0 tackles for losses, 3.0 forced fumbles), who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears, Maryland’s pass rush was practically non-existent last season.
Maryland finished 13th in the B1G Ten with 1.8 sacks per game. No defensive lineman had more than 1 sack.
Maryland returns nose tackle Olu Oluwatimi, Sam Okuayinonu and Durell Nchami.
JUCO transfers Ami Finau (defensive tackle) and Mosiah Nasili-Kite (defensive end) both figure to get a crack at starting. Redshirt freshman tackle Anthony Booker made his presence felt in limited action last season and could step in to replace the departed Keiron Howard.
Junior defensive end Lawtez Rogers has to bounce back after losing his starting spot to 6th-year senior Brett Kulka last season. The rangy 6-4, 268-pound Rogers has all the physical tools to be effective but needs to channel his skills into greater production.
Sophomore tackle Jalen Alexander and Tyler Baylor are other options who could get reps.
Passing rushing still isn’t a strong suit and it could be a struggle again for Maryland.
Run defense: Better
The run defense has the chance to be particularly stingy behind junior inside linebackers Ayinde Eley Jr. and Chance Campbell.
Eley Jr. amassed 79 tackles (4 for loss), 2 fumble recoveries and an interception to capture All-Big Ten honors. The 6-2, 251-pound Eley Jr. has the athleticism and tackling skills to blow up run plays.
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) May 26, 2020
Campbell, who had 54 tackles (4.5 for loss), a forced fumble and an interception, will step into a more prominent role. Campbell will be an impactful presence on the interior.
Senior Shaq Smith was limited by injuries last season and also had to play out of position at the JACK, where he could remain unless Maryland elects to slot him at the MIKE.
True freshman Ruben Hyppolite II has excellent potential. The 4-star recruit from South Florida has the speed and agility to harass running backs while also possessing a knack for making plays in coverage.
Maryland allowed 177.9 yards per game and surrendered 27 rushing touchdowns last season. Those totals will almost certainly drop this season. How much so will primarily depend on the production of Eley Jr. and Campbell.
Pass defense: Better
Overall, the secondary was last in the B1G in passing yards (271.3) allowed. However, the lumps taken last season by the young secondary will pay dividends in 2020.
The safety position is a strength for Maryland’s defense.
Strong safety Nick Cross (2019 All-Big Ten honorable mention) is a bonafide NFL prospect. Cross has excellent ball skills and range in the secondary. As a freshman starter last season, Cross totaled 45 tackles, 5 pass breakups and 2 interceptions.
— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) December 3, 2019
Redshirt senior safety Antwaine Richardson returns after sitting out last season with a torn ACL. In 2018, Richardson logged 41 tackles, an interception and 2 pass breakups.
Junior safety Jordan Mosley adds solid depth on the backline.
Maryland will have new pieces at the cornerback spots. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected nickel cornerback Antoine Brooks in the 6th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Brooks, a back-to-back second-team All-Big Ten selection, led Maryland in tackles (87) last season and had 8.5 tackles for loss.
Tino Ellis signed as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints. The graduated Marcus Lewis is another loss.
The Terps need sophomore cornerback Deonte Banks to make strides. Banks (28 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups) slid into a starting role for the final 8 games when Ellis missed time with an upper body injury.
Kenny Bennett and JUCO transfer Jakorian Bennett will serve as reliable pieces at cornerback.
The Maryland secondary will undergo some roster reshuffling but the returning pieces will blend together seamlessly.
Special teams: Worse
Despite punting frequently, this unit was the weakest of Maryland’s special teams last season.
Maryland was extremely uneven, splitting reps between freshmen Colton Spangler (40.6 yards per punt on 43 attempts) and Anthony Pecorella (39.9 yards per punt on 39 attempts).
Right now, Spangler seems to have the leg up but once again it’s an open competition. Pecorella will have the chance to reassert himself as well.
Regardless of who gets the nod, the field position battle figures to be a reoccurring issue.
Pressuring the quarterback and special teams are still lingering issues. However, the Maryland defense is reloaded and has more depth.
The secondary will provide the identity of the defense. Count on Cross to make national headlines with a sensational sophomore season. Richardson will close out his time at Maryland with an admirable bounce-back campaign.
The rushing defense will tighten up thanks to anchors Eley Jr. and Campbell.
Because of Locksley’s superb effort on the recruiting trail, the future is bright on defense. Maryland has a trio of local 4-star commits (WDE Demeioun Robinson, DT Marcus Bradley, DT Taizse Johnson) wh0 will provide even more ammunition in 2021.
— Demeioun Robinson (@chopyoungbull) March 27, 2020
In the meantime, the Maryland defense isn’t quite ready to be elite, but a strong foundation will be set in 2020.