In the coming days, we'll preview Maryland's football chances position-by-position, ala CFN. Only a lot more accurate, and in reverse order (ie, secondary to quarterback). Quite simply, because there's nothing else to talk about.
Yet one of the more overlooked uncertainties of the team, probably because the others are so obviously prominent, rests in the secondary, where the Terps lost three starters and are left with plenty of talent and just as many question marks.
If you listen to The Sporting News, Maryland's secondary is just as bad as its offensive and defensive lines, and even worse than its quarterback position, even though that's manned by a former two-star that's only started a couple of games. That's hardly high praise.
But when you ask most Maryland fans about the secondary, they'll likely feel significantly better about it than they would either line or even the quarterback spot. Because even though a bunch of experience departed, even more talent remains.
The best example of this comes at safety. Terrell Skinner and Jamari McCollough, two long-time starters, graduated after last year. While both were productive and safe bets, neither were ever lauded for their amazing talent, and it was rare that either produced magic.
The starters. Their replacements are the exact opposite. Kenny Tate is a former five-star wide receiver from DeMatha - the last big-time recruit Maryland has landed from DeMatha - who made the switch to safety his freshman year. He's been there ever since, and perhaps wisely; WR is a loaded position for Maryland, and safety is the perfect position to show off his freakish strength and athleticism. In fact, if you watched the Maryland-Clemson game last year, you'll remember when Tate laid out Clemson QB Kyle Parker (see above image), and that's probably all you needed to see to know that Tate can be an impact player at safety.
Antwine Perez will start next to him, and he has a bit of an interesting history. A five-star safety out of HS, he originally committed to USC but transferred to Maryland after his freshman year. Like Tate, he's amazingly athletic and has all the talent to be a star safety. But Skinner and McCollough were productive enough to keep both off the field.
But now those two are gone, and Perez and Tate - and all of their substantial talent - will be pushed into the limelight. But despite their athleticism, flaws - potentially fatal ones - exist in their game. Both are risk-takers. Both have made big mistakes in the past. Both are hard-hitters that perhaps go for a kill-shot instead of a safe tackle. Both seem to be at home when blitzing moreso than when in coverage.
They both have the potential to be absolute star safeties, in the mold of an Eric Berry or. But both also have the potential to be the LaRon Landry of the Maryland Terrapins, a risk-taker that costs his team with mistakes. With as little experience as both have - despite Perez being a senior and Tate being a sophomore, they've never seen serious playing time over the course of a season - it's impossible to tell how they'll react to the limelight.
Cornerback, meanwhile, has a similar story. Cameron Chism, the only returning starter of the secondary, will surely be the #1 corner. He was forced into action when Nolan Carroll was lost for the season, and by the end of the year had claimed a hold on the top spot. The junior has lockdown potential and I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up on a few All-ACC teams at the end of the season. He's a traditional cover corner that may be able to take some pressure of the rest of the defensive backfield.
Whoever will be opposite him, however, is less certain. Right now, it's a battle between an unproven but athletic junior (does that sound familiar?), Trenton Hughes, or a slightly more unproven but perhaps more talented redshirt freshman, Dexter McDougle. Hughes reportedly has the inside track, but at this point no one knows who will actually take the field as a starter. McDougle supposedly greatly impressed the coaches in practice, but Hughes has seen the field and done somewhat well. The battle, if you're interested, has been covered here much more in-depth.
The backups. The theme of the group, if you couldn't tell by now, is inexperienced talent. Sadly, that doesn't change once you get into the potential backups. Past the loser of the position battle for the second CB spot, there's little in the way of known commodities. Among the candidates are Michael Carter, a speedy senior walk-on that may or may not be on the team come fall, and Avery Graham, a redshirt freshman. Graham has never seen playing time, obviously, and Carter hasn't played outside of special teams. If a serious injury in the secondary occurs (one has in both of the past two years), Maryland will be facing a very unsavory situation.
Safety may have more talent and options, but certainly no more experience. Eric Franklin saw a few plays last year in his true freshman year, and was impressive in practice, but he's probably not starter-level yet. Travis Hawkins was an extraordinarily talented CB out of high school that ended up switching to safety after struggling with corner at the college level. Now a redshirt freshman, Hawkins has big-play potential, but who knows how he'll do after the position change?
Where to watch. Safety. In particular, Kenny Tate. Either McDougle or Hughes will likely be able to hold their own as a starter at the second cornerback spot, so I'm not worrying too much about that. But more worries should exist around safety, which is literally make or break. There's a very good chance that these guys will either be studs or duds; I don't get the feeling that there's a ton of middle ground. Tate could have an especially large impact on the success of the group; his decision-making has come under fire more often than Perez's, but his potential for magic also seems greater.
Importance level. High. The ultimate success of the defense will also be decided by the improvement of the defensive line and the strength of the linebackers, but corners and safeties will play an important role as well. Don Brown likes to blitz and that means that the safeties and cornerbacks will be crucial to preventing big plays. They'll find themselves on islands often, so skilled corners will be a necessity.
In a turtleshell. Maryland's secondary sports talent rarely found in teams that just went 2-10, but their experience is a limiting factor. No fewer than three potential stars are present in the secondary, but at least two of them also have the potential to disappoint.
I leave you with: Kenny Tate is the only name mentioned in this post that has his own Wikipedia entry. And it's actually very detailed.