The Maryland football secondary has been labeled by some over the summer as one of the team's weakest units, and with good reason. The group gave up more than its fair share of big plays in 2015, and that was with Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon and A.J. Hendy, none of whom are around anymore.
But there's still reason for optimism in the near future. Not only is Will Likely returning for one last go-round, but former four-star Florida cornerback signee J.C. Jackson is now on board. The junior college transfer arrived at Maryland last week, and he was cleared to practice with the team when camp began this week. His transition to the school should be finalized at the administrative level shortly.
"J.C.'s doing great for us out here, and he's a valued member of the team," head coach DJ Durkin said after practice. "I go way back with J.C. He and I were together when I was at the University of Florida, so we're very happy to have him."
"A coach can sit there and say all he wants, but really, the biggest thing that changes a room is competition," Durkin added. "When a guy that can really play comes in the room, it raises the bar for everyone in there."
There's a great chance Jackson, who classifies as a sophomore, will start immediately for the Terps. He's certainly impressed those alongside him.
"He does everything," fellow cornerback Will Likely said. "He's a physical corner, he's fast, he can cover, do anything you want him to do."
(It's worth noting that Likely had a non-contact yellow shirt on today, mostly as a precaution. He was the only non-quarterback to don one. Caleb Rowe spent the day on the sidelines, but he should be back on the field to compete for the top quarterback spot within the next couple days.)
With added depth in the backfield comes the opportunity for players to get reps at both corner and safety. Darnell Savage, a sophomore who spent most of last season at cornerback, has also put in some work as a safety. Durkin said he wants to be able to mix and match his defensive backs whenever necessary.
"The game is so much about matchups, and you've got to be able to have some leeway in terms of where you put guys going into a game plan," Durkin said. "J.C. puts another guy in the mix that can really play at a high level, so any time you do that, it gives you some more freedom."
Football is coming
This was the Terps' first of four open practices this week and next. It's not a huge deal in and of itself (they don't allow pictures or videos after the first 30 minutes, and there's no live tweeting or reporting whatsoever), but it's another box to check off as the first game on Sept. 3 inches closer.
Football practices serve as reminders of a few things, such as the sheer size of college football teams. Maryland's practice area consists of three full-sized fields, and all three are absolutely necessary. The practicality of airhorns was on full display, as well, with the intermittent blasts signaling that it was time to switch drills.
Training camps are very easy to lionize. Pads are crashing all over the place, and grunts of various volumes fill the air. Hollers of "let's go" also float across the fields; that phrase carries a much different tone when shouted by a coach than, say, a cheerleading squad. Wednesday's heat, at its weakest, still qualified as "blazing," and even the occasional breeze couldn't change that. Durkin is doing his best to schedule these practices for the hottest parts of the day, and on this day he most definitely succeeded.
Durkin is pretty easy to locate during practice, even with the full squad present. Nobody else bounces around the field like he does. Decked out in a red shirt, white shorts and a black-and-gold hat, he's got all four Maryland colors taken care of.
With all of three practices in the books, the team obviously isn't where it wants to be. But Durkin says he's pleased with how things have gone thus far, and seems to truly believe his own words.
"Since we've been here, these guys have been great," he said. "They've really bought in hard to what we're doing. These practices are hard; they're physical. I just want to see them have the mentality of getting better every day. Football's one of those games where you put a lot of work in for a [low] number of games, so you've got to embrace that."