National Signing Day 2013: Overviewing Maryland's Commitments, Linebacker and Secondary Edition

Cue the Will Likely puns.

We're closing in on National Signing Day 2013, the Egg McMuffin of football recruiting days. It's a bank holiday in places like Alabama, Michigan, and Florida, and while it's decidedly less of a big deal around these parts, we'll still be covering every angle of it. While we await the final decision of guys like Yannick Ngakoue, Jacquille Veii, and Jaylen Miller, we'll pass the time by breaking down each of Maryland's current commits. We've already looked at the offensive skill position commits and linemen; today, we wrap up the trilogy with the defense's back eight.

Linebackers

A year ago, Maryland had a linebacker shortage. Given that they were switching to a 3-4 defense, that shortage became a serious issue, and adding linebackers in bulk became a serious priority. It's why they inked five linebackers last year, but that didn't satisfy the coaching staff; another four are joining the program this season, with a potential fifth - Yannick Ngakoue, perhaps the jewel of the entire class - still waiting in the wings. That would give Maryland fifteen - count 'em, fifteen - linebackers on the roster next season. Even if the majority of those would be in their first season or two, I imagine Brian Stewart won't have any problem finding four to start.

And the emphasis isn't entirely ill-placed. An injury crisis two years ago led to guys like Alex Twine and L.A. Goree seeing playing time before they were ready, and given how the position had been more or less de-emphasized in the years preceding Edsall's reign, there'd be a similar vacuum of space after this season if they hadn't pursued 'backers in numbers. The 3-4 relies upon its defensive linemen, but it exists to showcase its linebackers, so you better have good ones. The Terps are adding some raw prospects and projects, but raw numbers alone dictate that they'll get some good ones.

Jalen Brooks

HS / Hometown: North Gwinett / Suwanee, Ga.
Measurables: 6-3 / 220
Maryland Was Better Than: Air Force, Navy, Yale
Recruited By: Tom Brattan
Rankings:
---247: , #137 outside linebacker
---ESPN: , #87 outside linebacker
---Rivals:
---Scout: , #111 outside linebacker
Highlights:


Brooks probably projects as an inside linebacker at Maryland, though he could also end up at SAM depending on how much he bulks up and where other prospects end up. He's a traditional Edsallian prospect: intelligent and instinctive, and based on those other offers, probably hard-working and coachable, too. He's a sideline-to-sideline type of linebacker, probably a good fit for one of the strong side 'backer spots in Maryland's scheme: he flashes the ability to drop back a bit and run with slower running backs or tight ends, and has the athleticism to sniff out running plays on the edge. He's a good tackler but doesn't look like a particularly physical player, more of a finesse linebacker at this point. Perhaps that's to be expected - he has the frame of a safety more than a linebacker right now - and as he gets bigger he'll get more physical and tougher, too. Physically, he's a step behind someone like Ngakoue, but he's technically good, athletic, and smart enough to see the field right away if need be.

Jermaine Carter

HS / Hometown: Friendship Collegiate / Washington, D.C.
Measurables: 6-0 / 220
Maryland Was Better Than: BC, Buffalo, Colorado, Syracuse, Temple
Recruited By: Mike Locksley
Rankings:
---247: , #88 OLB
---ESPN: , #99 OLB
---Rivals:
---Scout: , #63 ILB
Highlights:


Carter already has a good, bulky frame that fits in well with the bigger bodies required up front in the 3-4 scheme, which is one of the reasons he was a nice get for the class. Like Brooks, he plays instinctively and has a nose for the football, which is clearly something that Maryland's staff has emphasized; where he differs is that he's not only a bit more developed physically, but he also plays with a bit more explosiveness. That's neither good nor bad as much as it's just a stylistic difference; Brooks is a sure tackler, but when Carter hits you, you know it. He has a quick first step and when he diagnoses a play, attacks it downhill, which is a delight to see. There will be times when he can't do that at this level, where the play will be disguised or he'll get blocked, and that's going to be the area he'll need to work on in the long-term, because pace and power won't be enough in the Big Ten. But he makes sense for one of the inside linebacker spots at Maryland, probably MO, where he'll bomb ahead and either make the play himself or open up space for his partner. I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an early impact on special teams, though, given the way he plays.

Derrick Hayward

HS / Hometown: Wicomico / Salisbury, Md.
Measurables: 6-5 / 200
Maryland Was Better Than: BC, Navy, Rutgers
Recruited By: John Dunn
Rankings:
---247: , #55 OLB
---ESPN: , #75 OLB
---Rivals:
---Scout: , #87 DE
Highlights:


There's a whole heck of a lot to like about Maryland's incoming linebackers, especially if Yannick Ngakoue ends up in choosing the Terrapins on Wednesday. But perhaps the most intriguing prospect is Hayward. People say Dez Wells looks like a football player; well, Hayward, standing at 6-5 and 200 pounds, looks every bit a small forward, and he seems even longer than that. He's gangly and languid, perhaps a little awkward at this point, even. But he also has speed to play sideline-to-sideline or run down ballcarriers in pursuit, plus a quick first step and burst off the line, and is deceptively athletic. He's going to be a WILL at Maryland, without a doubt, asked to do very little aside from putting his head down and getting the quarterback, and his athleticism, instinctive pass-rushing, and frame means he has the potential to be an absolute terror in a few years' time. To fulfill that, he'll need to develop some pass-rushing moves, plus add at least 30 pounds to his frame - the former quality will depend on him, but the latter shouldn't be an issue, looking at his frame. He might be the last linebacker here to make a serious impact, but he's certainly the most interesting.

Cavon Walker

HS / Hometown: Friendship Collegiate / Washington, D.C.
Measurables: 6-2 / 220
Maryland Was Better Than: Houston, N.C. State, Purdue
Recruited By: Mike Locksley
Rankings:
---247: , #43 weakside defensive end
---ESPN: , #55 ILB
---Rivals:
---Scout: , #85 OLB
Highlights:


More recent Hudl highlights here

Maryland had a big weekend last summer, when a trio of Friendship Collegiate players committed to the Terrapins and, at least to some degree, showed that the recruiting sea change was legitimate and real. Ngakoue and Derwin Gray stole the headlines, but Cavon Walker was a quietly important part of that trio, and will be an interesting prospect in his own right. He's most likely to fill in at SAM, given the presence of Hayward and potentially Ngakoue in the class at WILL, and it's probably his most natural spot, anyway. He fills out his frame well and looks like a natural, fluid athlete, and I don't think he'll need to add too much bulk to reach a suitable playing weight - Kenny Tate and Alex Twine, who shared SAM duties, only went about 230 a pop themselves. He doesn't strike me as particularly explosive with his first step, but he has speed to play sideline to sideline and motors along at a good clip for someone of his size. He mostly rushes the passer at this point, it seems, so he'll need to work on coverage skills, although he looked disciplined and aggressive in the run game. His physique seems ready to play early, and he can an impact situationally as a pass rusher, or on special teams. I imagine his future lies more of a traditional all-around linebacker, though, and that'll take some time to develop.

Defensive Backs

Ah, the new linebackers. Injuries and a general lack of depth exposed Maryland's secondary in a big way last year, forcing true freshman Anthony Nixon and Sean Davis into early playing time, once again a good bit before they were ready. Adding defensive backs in bulk thereby became a priority, not only to avoid such a disaster from occurring in the future but also to buttress the secondary in the immediate. The sink-or-swim nature of last season for the freshmen - who, by and large, swam - gives the staff a bit of time to play around with these prospects, but they needed numbers, preferably with at least one guy who'd be comfortable playing immediately.

And like the rest of the class, even if this wasn't knocked out of the park, mission more or less accomplished.

Milan Collins

HS / Hometown: McNamara / Forestville, Md.
Measurables: 6-1 / 190
Maryland Was Better Than: BC, Buffalo, ECU, N.C. State, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia
Recruited By: Mike Locksley
Rankings:
---247: , #69 ATH
---ESPN: , #154 ATH
---Rivals:
---Scout: , #92 S
Highlights:


First thing you notice about Collins' highlight video: it's of him at quarterback. All of it. Collins, as McNamara's starting quarterback, didn't play a lot of safety in high school, even though that'll undoubtedly be his position at this level and is where Maryland recruited for. With four sophomore safeties and a fifth junior, the Terps weren't hurting for immediate safety help, which will give Collins time to adjust and get used to the position. What's more important to look at it is his athleticism and physical tools for the position, which show why he's an attractive possibility as a free safety: he's a rangy, long 6-1, with the frame to easily carry the weight you'd like to see in a safety. He has a quick first step and a decent amount of speed, and is clearly a fairly, if not extraordinarily, athletic prospect. Quarterbacks usually convert to darn good safeties, as well, because their ability to diagnose plays is helped substantially by their time spent under center, so they're well-suited to that deep-lying centerfielder type of player. Collins won't make an immediate impact, but he's a good long-term project - a local, at that - and Maryland has the time to mold him into what they want.

Elvis Dennah

HS / Hometown: Annapolis Area Christian / Annapolis, Md.
Measurables: 6-4 / 205
Maryland Was Better Than: n/a - Maryland was Dennah's first offer and he committed immediately
Recruited By: John Dunn
Rankings:
---247: , #167 S
---ESPN: , #121 OLB
---Rivals:
---Scout: , #120 S
Highlights:


Hudl highlights here

The first thing that springs to mind with Dennah is that's he's really reminiscent of a recent Terrapin: Desmond Kearse. Kearse played defensive end in high school; Dennah plays linebacker, though he's certainly one who plays closer to the line of scrimmage than usual. Just like Kearse transitioned to safety in College Park, so too will Dennah, who unlike Kearse has at least played there in the past. While the long view is probably on turning Dennah into a rangy, play-making strong safety - think of an early model Kenny Tate, perhaps, though doubtfully with the same effectiveness - Dennah does bring something to the table immediately that no one else in the stable of defensive backs does. One of the basic principles of the 3-4 is creating confusion: there are still four players blitzing, but the fourth could come from anywhere - usually WILL, but sometimes SAM or even one of the safeties. Maryland lacked, to some degree, that safety threat last year, and guys like Undray Clark, Anthony Nixon, and Sean Davis are certainly more comfortable in coverage than they are chasing the quarterback. That's not the case with Dennah, who was effective as a 'backer in his time at AACS. His ability to play closer to the line of scrimmage will offer Maryland's defense a different look immediately, and for that reason I wouldn't be surprised to see him get situational playing time immediately. Even if not, that's still a fairly unique skillset for Maryland's roster, and it gives him a leg-up on the other young safeties.

Will Likely

HS / Hometown: Glades Central / Belle Glade, Fl.
Measurables: 5-7 / 170
Maryland Was Better Than: Clemson, Georgia, Indiana, Louisville, Miami, Ole Miss, Oregon, Purdue, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest
Recruited By: Andre Powell
Rankings:
---247: , #25 ATH
---ESPN: , #22 CB
---Rivals: , #17 CB, #203 overall
---Scout: , #49 CB
Highlights:


Will Likely is not blazing fast - in fact, his timed speed is in the 4.5 range. Nor is he physically imposing - he's all of 5-7. And yet he's generally considered one of the nation's better cornerback prospects, and by some as one of the better prospects at all. Why? It's a horrible cliché, but because he's just a plain and simple football player. He plays bigger than his size, faster than his listed time, and has a nose for the ball to rival anyone in the country. Despite his limited size, he's one of the better ballhawks in the class: he reacts immediately and has a quick first step to undercut intermediate throws, and on deeper throws showcases a huge vertical that compensates for his height and lets him get the ball at its highest point. His footwork, fluidity, and technique is about as good as you're going to get for an incoming freshman, too. And to top it all off, he plays with the type of swagger and confidence you want out of a cornerback, and the one that you'd expect out of a four-star from Florida. There's just the one big elephant in the room: his physical limitations. And they are limitations indeed. He may play faster than 4.5, but he doesn't run faster than 4.5; and he might play bigger than 5'7", but he isn't taller than 5'7". Compare him to someone like, say, Deon Long, a grown man of a wide receiver, and all the technique and swagger and IQ wouldn't save him. There aren't a lot of Deon Long physiques at this level, but the Big Ten is a big league, and he'll be pushed physically.

If he can overcome that - and no one knows if he will until he suits up - he has the potential to be a shut-down corner a few years down the line. His ability to read the game and fluidity are pretty rare tools, and he's only going to improve upon them. He's already on campus, too, as an early enrollee, and that means he'll be at spring practice to get the system down. I'd say he's a virtual lock to burn his redshirt this year, with only Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson having really nailed down cornerback spots. He'll at least play situationally, and could make a run at Isaac Goin's nickel spot.

Jarrett Ross

HS / Hometown: Wilmington Charter / Wilmington, De.
Measurables: 5-11 / 180
Maryland Was Better Than: n/a - Maryland was Ross' first offer and he committed immediately
Recruited By: Lee Hull
Rankings:
---247: , #102 CB
---ESPN: , #90 CB
---Rivals:
---Scout: , #85 CB
Highlights:


One word: speed. Ross ran a sub-4.4 as a sophomore, and you imagine he's only gotten faster since. Brother of current Terps running back Brandon Ross, Jarrett was the Terps' first commitment and has been solid ever since pulling the trigger over a year ago, back in January of 2012. His early commitment has kept the hype down, but he's greased lightning, and for a Maryland team that was in need of speed, his presence will be welcome. He has good size for the cornerback spot already, which is good news, because it means he won't have to bulk up too much and risk losing his speed. He doesn't look blindingly fast on film - I certainly wouldn't guess sub-4.4 - but he does clearly have an extra gear that he goes to once in awhile that can erase an angle immediately. Not a lot he does on film really jumps out as extraordinary, but he makes plays and is clearly a smart player - and yes, this is a theme throughout Maryland's class, and it's not one that should surprise you given Randy Edsall's recruiting history. Ross needs to work on man-to-man coverage and tackling before he'll contribute too much - remember, Brian Stewart likes physical defensive backs - but his speed will give him a chance to contribute immediately or as a redshirt freshman, either on special teams or when the secondary needs someone to run with a speed merchant receiver.

Up next: trends.

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