Welcome back to the Testudo Times position preview series. With the defensive line and linebackers already previewed, we take a look at Maryland’s secondary to wrap up the defensive side of the ball.
The Terps had the second-worst scoring defense in the Big Ten last year, and their secondary certainly warrant some blame. Maryland allowed 22 passing touchdowns — a bottom-four mark in the conference — and only had six interceptions, which ranked tied for 109th in all of FBS.
However, Maryland’s secondary strung together two superb games against Rutgers and Virginia Tech to finish the 2021 season. The Terps only allowed an average of 150 passing yards and zero touchdowns in their final two games of the season. For comparison, in the Terps’ first 11 games of the season, they allowed 267.6 passing yards per game.
First-year safeties coach Wes Neighbors will need to replace 2021 NFL Draft pick Nick Cross and consistent starter Jordan Mosley, while cornerbacks coach Henry Baker returns top talent to his room.
Maryland’s 2022 defensive back depth
|Jakorian Bennett||Senior||24 tackles, 2 tfl, 3 int, 16 pbu|
|Tarheeb Still||Junior||55 tackles, 3 tfl, 2 sacks, 11 pbu|
|Deonte Banks||Redshirt junior||6 tackles, missed majority of season|
|Dante Trader Jr.||Sophomore||16 tackles, 1 tfl, 1 pbu|
|Beau Brade||Junior||14 tackles, 1.5 tfl, 1 sack|
|Corey Coley Jr.||Sophomore||14 tackles, 1 pbu|
|Isaiah Hazel||Senior||18 tackles, 2 tfl|
|Glendon Miller||Redshirt sophomore||8 tackles|
|Shane Mosley||Redshirt sophomore||6 tackles|
|Rex Fleming||Junior||5 tackles|
|Jayon Venerable||Sophomore||Appeared in 4 games|
|Lionell Whitaker||Freshman||3-star recruit|
|Gavin Gibson||Freshman||3-star recruit|
|Lavain Scruggs||Freshman||3-star recruit|
|Chantz Harley||Sophomore||Transfer from Villanova|
|Owura Berko||Redshirt junior||DNP|
Maryland will depend on its proven returning cornerbacks
Starting all 12 games that he played in, Jakorian Bennett had a massive breakout year in 2021. Bennett’s 16 pass breakups led all power conference players and were the most by a Maryland defensive back in 18 years.
The Mobile, Alabama native and Hutchinson Community College transfer became a stud for the Terps and was honored with All-Big Ten accolades by the conference and Phil Steele. Though Bennett had a fantastic year, he knows he can get better, and that starts with turning some of those head-turning pass breakup numbers into interceptions.
“Get my head around, just try to track the ball better,” Bennett said on what he’s looking to improve this season. “This is what I’ve kind of been working on through the spring is just kind of looking for the ball. If you get the ball, we get turnovers. That’s a big part of...we have a better chance of winning.”
Tarheeb Still joins Bennett as a reliable starter in Maryland’s defensive backfield. Still has started in all 17 games he has played in his college career. He was named a Freshman All-American by The Athletic in 2020 and turned that truncated season into a viable 2021 campaign. Still led the nation in pass breakups per game in 2020, and his 11 total pass breakups in 2021 were sixth in the Big Ten.
Though Still has also shined as a punt returner, he needs to continue his strong play at corner for the Terps to improve as a defensive unit.
“I worked a lot on attacking the football, trying to really create a lot of turnovers for the team,” Still said. “And then just footwork. Staying sharp on that because that — you’re gonna always need that. And then one thing really is just trying to be more vocal. Just working on that so I can talk to guys more, guys can come to me, stuff like that.”
Deonte Banks, who started Maryland’s first two games of 2021 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, returns to Maryland’s strong cornerback core as well. Banks participated in Maryland’s spring practices and told the media that he was feeling “real good” back in April. Banks has shown what he can do as an aggressive tackler out of the secondary, and a healthy Banks provides another positive layer to a cornerback room that has the mold to succeed.
Despite the forefront of Maryland’s cornerback position having a positive outlook, the Terps do lose two impactful depth pieces. Occasional starters Kenny Bennett and Lavonte Gater both entered the transfer portal this spring, providing a blow to Baker’s group. A young player like Corey Coley Jr., who made splashes as a true freshman last season, should receive ample playing time and make a greater impact this fall.
Can Maryland’s new starting safeties hold their own?
From both a leadership and talent perspective, it would be naive to underestimate the losses of Cross and Mosley to this Maryland program. Simply put, Maryland’s safeties compose an inexperienced group. Cross and Mosley combined for 47 career starts and leave a massive hole in rookie defensive coordinator Brian Williams’ side of the ball.
The expectation is that sophomore Dante Trader Jr. and junior Beau Brade will be the starters, and it is a bit more unclear after that. Trader, who was speculated to once play both football and lacrosse at Maryland, is a spectacular athlete who made his impact felt in 12 of the Terps’ contests last season. He and Brade had virtually the same statistics in 2021 and could prove to be a formidable duo in 2022. The question of whether that can come to fruition remains unanswered, though.
“Still kind of a little bit concerned,” head coach Michael Locksley said following April’s spring game. “With Dante and Beau, they both played some meaningful minutes for us last year. The guy that really I thought had a really good spring for us and somebody that I’m looking to be one of those playmakers for us on defense [is Glendon] Miller, being added to the mix back there as a safety and a nickel.”
Miller, a former three-star recruit in the class of 2020, will have a chance to prove himself among a group that needs to be proved as a whole. Locksley also mentioned Shane Mosley, the younger brother of former Terp Jordan, as a depth piece.
The youth of the safeties was shown publicly in April’s spring game, but the group has had nearly four months since then to prepare. Regardless, Locksley knows the challenge at hand for this group and hopes it can turn some heads.
“They’ve got to grow up fast,” Locksley added.