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Maryland football’s secondary gained some depth, but is still super young

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The Terps are returning four starters, and have some untapped potential behind them.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hey guys, spring practice is underway, so we’re going unit-by-unit and projecting what we think the depth chart will look like at each position in 2017. We’ll include notes from spring practice where we can. We looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers. Now we’re onto the defensive backs.

If there was one thing Will Likely’s injury did for Maryland football, it gave the secondary a jump start on preparing for life without him. Tino Ellis and JC Jackson both got to play extra snaps with Likely out, and both will definitely benefit from that experience. They’ll need to, because behind them is a whole lot of inexperience.

The players

Departures: Will Likely, Alvin Hill (graduation)

Returning players: Denzel Conyers, Darnell Savage Jr., JC Jackson, Elisha Daniels, Elijah Daniels, Josh Woods, Antwaine Carter, RaVon Davis

Returning players who we all thought would play receiver and ended up playing corner: Tino Ellis

Transfers: Cal Kee (from Nevada), Alex Woods (from junior college)

Incoming freshmen: Deon Jones (enrolled early), Markquese Bell (enrolled early), Kenny Bennett

Secondary depth chart

Depth chart CB NB FS SS CB
Depth chart CB NB FS SS CB
Starters Tino Ellis RaVon Davis Darnell Savage Denzel Conyers JC Jackson
2nd team Deon Jones Eilsha Daniels Josh Woods Markquese Bell Alex Woods
3rd team Kenny Bennett Antwaine Richardson Cal Kee Elijah Daniels Fofie Bazzie
4th team Qwuantrezz Knight

Here’s why

Like linebacker and defensive line, Maryland has multiple returning starters followed by several unknown quantities. JC Jackson, Denzel Conyers, Darnell Savage Jr. and RaVon Davis are all returning starters, and they’re surrounded by four freshmen, five sophomores, two juniors and one junior college transfer. That experience is awfully concentrated at the top, so what’s behind them is, again, a mystery. (Tino Ellis also made one start and Josh Woods five).

Key battle: All the non-starters vs. each other

There’s so many moving parts here, mostly due to the nature of any secondary. Players can switch between corner, nickel and safety, especially in a group that’s so young. Though two newcomers could potentially push for more playing time than the others, there will be a lot going on behind the scenes. We’ll get to see some of the competition in the spring game, but that’ll be quite a rough projection. Eventually, though, some guys will separate themselves as at least clear second-stringers. Could sophomores Antwaine Richardson, Qwuantrezz Knight and Elijah and Elisha Daniels do that? Maybe they will, or maybe it’ll be one of the talented freshmen or JuCo transfer Alex Woods.

Big question: What are the freshman going to do?

Deon Jones and Markquese Bell were two of the best prospects Maryland brought in for the Class of 2017, and both enrolled early. Jones, a cornerback, will have a limited role in spring practice as he rehabs from a knee injury, but Bell, a safety, is practicing now. We’ll get to see the latter in the spring game on April 22, but we might not know much about the former until August or September. And while Maryland does have more depth at defensive back now than it did last year, Jones and Bell are talented enough that they could play major minutes right away.

If he’s healthy, Jones figures to be at least a second-string corner immediately, if not a starter. Bell projects to be in a rotation with Denzel Conyers at strong safety, and could even push the senior for his starting job. A lot of the sophomores could throw a wrench in these projections with strong jumps from freshman year, though.