Spring practice storylines: Position battles to watch

Maryland's starting tight end? - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Our overview of what to watch for in Maryland's spring practice continues with an overview of the five biggest position battles going down in College Park.

We've already talked about the biggest position battle on the team with an earlier storyline: quarterback, which is shaping up to be a four-way royale, with C.J. Brown out front but three others - especially Ricardo Young - breathing down his neck. But, as mentioned there, with Brown limited and Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills both out for spring, it's unlikely that we see any serious development on that front in the next four weeks.

Other positional scraps, however, aren't so unlucky. And with so many players returning from injury, plus all the departures on the defensive end, there are plenty of interesting competitions to keep an eye on. Let's look at the five most intriguing.

TE: Dave Stinebaugh, Daniel Adams, and P.J. Gallo

No position - not even quarterback - is less settled in College Park than tight end. The Terps lost their three top contributors at the spot from last year, and the only returnees are a senior who has four career catches, a transfer from New Mexico who's being converted from wide receiver, and a lesser-known redshirt freshman. Andrew Isaacs, a highly-regarded four-star from Connecticut, will arrive in the fall, but he's young and an unknown quantity, largely; this is a wide open position in every aspect.

Stinebaugh starts spring ball at the top of the chart, ahead of Gallo and Adams, who are tied in second. Mike Locksley's offense tends to not utilize tight ends particularly heavily, as seen by Matt Furstenburg's lack of production last year and by his time at Illinois, when only once out of five years did he have a tight end eclipse 20 receptions. That gives Stinebaugh and Gallo a leg-up on Adams, but given their lack of playing time both have plenty to prove. It'll be interesting to watch not only if Stinebaugh, who's only ever gotten a handful of chances in an offensive set despite being in the program for four years now, can hold onto the spot, especially if Adams can prove to offer another aspect to the offense.

DE: Quinton Jefferson and Justin Anderson

I've been assuming that Anderson would start at the strongside end spot, as would've made sense given his size and experience. But Jefferson's been a big-time favorite of the staff ever since stepping on campus, and got quite a bit of playing time last year, quietly impressing in the process. This is one of the few battles that the staff has acknowledged, with the two tied atop the first depth chart, which should should give Jefferson heart.

The two do offer quite different looks, and that means there's probably going to be enough playing time to go around for the both of them. Jefferson was looked at in high school as a potential 'tweener, perhaps moving back to linebacker, but he's bulked up substantially since then to get to 270, a good weight for a 3-4 end. Still, he's a bit more penetrative and nimble than the 280-pound Anderson, who's spent time at defensive tackle in College Park. They'll rotate situationally, but Jefferson has a chance to wrest the starting spot away from Anderson.

C: Sal Conaboy, Evan Mulrooney

Conaboy has been consistently solid in College Park, never really dominating a game but looking relatively mistake-free. When he went down to injury last year, though, Mulrooney stepped in and deputized admirably, at times looking in over his head (he was a freshman, after all) but largely holding his own. Conaboy was even kept out of the lineup for two games in the back half of the year when he was healthy, which speaks volumes about how the staff regarded Mulrooney (and perhaps about Conaboy's injury, as well).

Expect this to be a healthy battle; I wouldn't be afraid with either of the two going into the season. Whichever emerges victorious will be pretty well proven.

OLB: Alex Twine and Avery Thompson

There are actually two battles going on at the outside 'backer spot, with Marcus Whitfield trying to put as much daylight between himself and the Yannicks: Yannick Ngakoue, the true freshman-to-be who'll come hard charging for the spot once he gets on campus, and maybe even Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil, a transfer from Division-II Seton Hill who's drawn some plaudits for his showing in winter conditioning and early in the spring. But until Ngakoue gets on campus, it's still Whitfield's spot.

Not so much the case at the other side of the defense, where Brian Stewart's searching for a replacement for Kenny Tate at SAM. Alex Twine filled that role when called upon last year, but faded down the stretch a bit as Tate regained his health. Still, you'd expect that the guy with two years of high-level experience behind him would have a hold of the starting spot above Thompson, who has two career tackles and received only a handful of snaps last season. It'd seem he's impressed Stewart and outside 'backers coach Lyndon Johnson, though, which means Twine will have to have a strong spring to keep his spot under control heading into autumn.

Nickel CB: Isaac Goins, Alvin Hill, and Will Likely

Goins, who was the nickel corner most of last year, is the incumbent starter, but his security isn't guaranteed. Hill came along strongly toward the back half of last season, and Likely looks especially ... uh, likely, to mount a challenge. He's started at the bottom of the depth chart, but the general consensus is that he's good enough to contribute immediately, especially if he can adjust quickly to the even greater difference in physicality. He's guaranteed to be one of the more explosive and dynamic players in Maryland's defensive backfield, and if that translates quickly, he'll be able to push the steadier, more unspectacular Goins.

Others to know: kicker (Brad Craddock, Michael Tart, and Brendan Magistro); punt returner (Deon Long, Stefon Diggs, Dexter McDougle, and Will Likely); guard (De'Onte Arnett and Silvano Altamirano); safety (Sean Davis, A.J. Hendy)

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