With a team unsettled by a troublesome 2-10 season, there are plenty of position battles to keep an eye on, with almost every spot on the offensive line and certainly a few spots on the defensive line as well up for grabs. But one of the most important, and overlooked, battles that will be settled in fall camp comes in the defensive secondary.
In terms of experience, Maryland's secondary can be seen as pretty lacking. Three starters from last year departed, and even though Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez may be more than capable at safety and Anthony Wiseman wasn't anything special at CB, the pure lack of gametime should trouble any on-lookers. In fact, only Cam Chism, Maryland's starting CB and heir to the Nolan Carroll-Kevin Barnes-Josh Wilson-Dominique Foxworth throne of star MD CBs, is the only returning starter.
Traditionally, Maryland's kind of struggled past then. That Maryland has a tradition of their best CB getting injured is probably part of the reason why; Barnes and Carroll were both famously injured in their senior seasons, which forced Carroll (the first time) and Chism (the second time) into unexpected roles, and greatly decreased the depth Maryland had (which, with guys like Richard Taylor and Anthony Wiseman, was greater than it is now). The past doesn't exactly bode well to be going into fall with no experienced backups.
Obviously, whoever comes out at the other cornerback spot will be important; every position in that group is fragile. It becomes even more important when you consider that both of Maryland's current safeties, Perez and Tate, aren't lauded as great cover safeties.
Perez's rap since high school has always been that he's a physical specimen and amazingly hard hitter but not great in coverage; ever since coming to Maryland, that's all the Terps have seen of him in his inconsistent playing time. They even tried him out at linebacker; sure, that's partially due to strength and athleticism, but it's not exactly an endorsement of his coverage skills. He played a great game against FSU toward the end of last year, but he needs to replicate that; other decisions he's made have been questionable. He's a gambler and has been beat over the time multiple times.
Same for Tate. He's perhaps the best athlete on the team, but moved to safety from WR and his coverage ability and instincts have been questioned ever since. You don't really need me to tell you that CFN says he's "prone to making mistakes", because you probably already know that, but I'll tell you anyway. He, like Perez, is at his best when blitzing or in run defense, and both were often played at linebacker at times last year. Having two linebackers at safety is great for a variety of reasons, but having solid coverage over the top ain't one of them.
If the safeties find themselves unable to provide an umbrella, the corners will be held out on an island against their receiver. The fewer mistakes, the better, because each one has pretty good odds to end up being a huge play. Of course, it's an assumption that Tate and Perez will struggle in coverage given their limited playing time, but it's one that has to be made.
Hughes received playing time last year in reserve, though probably not nearly enough of it. He saw some PT as a nickel corner and bookended his season with decent games against MTSU and VT. He wasn't very memorable outside of two nice plays I remember against N.C. State and MTSU, but he also managed to stick out in my memory or get burned. And that means that, at least against the other team's #3 WR, he was okay.
McDougle is younger and more risky, but potentially more talented. A redshirt freshman, he was a sleeper when Maryland picked up his commitment and morphed into a rather highly-touted recruit by the scouting services after he committed. He's been a coaches' favorite ever since in practice, and if they're to be believed he'll be a starter - and a very good one - before long. He's known as a physical cornerback, which might be a little worrisome because physical, bump-and-run CBs usually get beaten over the top more.
McDougle is also vying for playing time at punt returner, which may or may not hurt him in his quest for CB playing time.
It's ultimately likely that they'll split time. If I had to pick one to start, Hughes - thanks to his experience - would be most likely; quite simply, Maryland doesn't have a lot of wiggle room for first-time mistakes. As Hughes says, "You can't beat experience."
More recently, Hughes was picked out as a standout player a few days into camp. McDougle...wasn't. That should only increase the advantage Hughes may hold.
Regardless, the battle for a second cornerback is, unlike most other position battles, just as unsettled as it was the first day of spring ball. That's not a great sign, but it also means that if there's any position to watch during fall practice, second CB is it.
*Note: this storylines deal isn't going to be all position battles. The first two just happened to be.