Ah, spring ball. The smells of position battles and intrigue fills the air. The defense, which is under the new management of Todd Bradford, has a few completely wide-open positions. Strangely, though, most of the spots are pretty well-decided, without a lot of intrigue. I guess that's what's happens when you return seven starters.
If you want to check out the offense's battles, they're over here. The very few defensive position battles that truly exist are right here:
Combatants: A.J. Francis, Maurice Hampton
On paper, this isn't much of a battle. Actually, technically speaking, this is only a battle on paper. In one corner, we have Francis, an honorable mention Freshman All-American who's started two straight years and had 44 tackles with 2.5 sacks last year. He's widely regarded as one of the defense's most effective players, as well as the most magnetic personalities. In the other corner is Maurice Hampton, a senior who's been converted from OL and has a grand total of one career tackle.
I don't know where the battle is, but Maryland's official depth chart lists the two as being tied atop the DT spot. It's especially strange when you consider the defensive line coach, defensive coordinator, and head coach are all new. With minimal time to evaluate the personnel, you'd think they'd go with what the previous staff did. I'm still trying to make this seem like something other than a typo, but hey, maybe Hampton is this year's Joe Vellano. I wouldn't be upset if he was.
Combatants: David Mackall, Bradley Johnson
ROCK is in some ways similar to the LEO of old; based on the personnel here, it looks like a swing DE/LB position with a stress on undersized-yet-athletic, pass-rushing 'tweeners. Mackall is a fan favorite. When he came in as a four-star DE/LB, we had dreams of the next Merriman (the only player who ever made the LEO work). He ended up at ILB, though, a position that would seem to ignore his inherent strengths. He fared well enough, making three sacks in limited playing time and laying out the odd kick returner or two.
With Bradford embracing the "multiple" idea, though, Mackall's versatility was perfect for the ROCK, which sounds like a more traditional use of his talents anyway. He'll be competing there with Johnson, a redshirt sophomore who is extremely similar to Mackall in terms of his skills. He played in all 13 games last year and started in the ECU game, getting 14 tackles.
Johnson's smaller than Mackall (6-1, 220 vs. 6-2, 240) which may hurt when playing the traditional DE spot, but he is faster and more fluid. Still, it's Mackall's job to lose: he was more productive in similar playing time, and the old coaching staff loved him. If Johnson starts, it'll be an upset.
Combatants: Eric Franklin, Titus Till
Even though the position isn't named free safety per se, both Franklin and Till are FSes, so...yeah, that's my guess. Franklin's a junior (already!), and he's received decent playing time in both of his first two years on campus. He had three interceptions and 23 tackles in two starts (11 total games played) last season and is by far the most experienced member of the safety corps. In truth, I've never been terribly impressed with him, particularly considering that his partner will likely be the linebacker-ish Matt Robinson, meaning Franklin will be the primary coverage guy deep. With Maryland's inconsistent corner play (love ya, Cam), that's an extremely important job.
That's what makes me think Till will challenge for the job before the season starts. His ranking was a little inflated coming out of HS, but he was a four-star nonetheless. Even though he has some linebacker-type tendencies himself, he's also very tall and rangy, which lets him cover tons of ground. He's gotten positive reviews for that, and considering how much Maryland could've used a rangy safety last year, he stand a good chance to push for snaps. The big negative is his lack of experience, which stands out compared to the veteran Franklin.
Yeah, I told you there weren't a lot of them. Final guesses: Francis, Mackall, Till. But maybe that's wishful thinking, particularly with Till, who may not be ready.