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Maryland football’s defense showed signs of improvement in the spring game

A Matt Canada offense and a stout defense? That’ll do.

Maryland defense swarming to ball Lila Bromberg/Testudo Times

One of the biggest storylines heading into Maryland football’s spring game was what Matt Canada’s offense would look like and how it would perform for the first time in public. Instead, it was the defense that shined on a beautiful day in College Park.

In fairness, the first-team defense played against the second-team offense, which was quarterbacked by a true freshman early enrollee and a walk-on, but this was about as dominant as it gets. The second team managed just one field goal at the end of the first half en route to a 31-3 loss. When the dust settled, two defensive newcomers stood out, neither of whom is new to college football.

In the second quarter, Florida State transfer Marcus Lewis stepped in front of a Tyler DeSue throw and easily trotted some 40 yards into the end zone.

“It’s always fun to get a pick-six, especially here,” Lewis said after the game. “It’s my first time playing in a long time, so my family and friends are here, so it was good to get one under my belt.”

After sitting out last season due to transfer rules, Lewis is expected to be one of Maryland’s starting cornerbacks this coming season. He’s frequently stood out in open practices as somebody who could emerge as a shutdown corner for the Terps; Saturday’s performance should only bolster those feelings.

As poor as Maryland’s defensive line was last year, there’s hope that this season is a turning point for the unit, as a stable of young talent is set to bring an infusion of size and skill to the field. Perhaps the most intriguing newcomer, though, is veteran Byron Cowart, who spent two years at Auburn and last season out of football.

Cowart was having his way with just about any offensive lineman who attempted to stand in his way Saturday. Three of the Terps’ five projected offensive line starters didn’t play in the spring game—Derwin Gray, Damian Prince and Terrance Davis are all nursing injuries—but it might not have mattered. The 6’4, 270-pound defensive end was a force off the edge and showed that he can be the bookend pass rusher opposite Jesse Aniebonam to pressure opposing quarterbacks this season.

“They’re terrific,” DJ Durkin said of Lewis and Cowart. “They’ve been consistent all spring too, they’ve performed that way pretty much throughout the entire spring every day. We’re excited about those guys. They’ll definitely be big contributors for us.”

Elsewhere on the defense, other newcomers made their presence felt in their first action in front of fans in a Maryland uniform. There weren’t a ton of highlight plays, but true freshman BUCK Durell Nchami blew up a Ty Johnson run before it even got started and exhibited similar quickness and physicality throughout the day.

Redshirt freshmen Ayinde Eley and Fofie Bazzie led the game in tackles with seven solo and six total (five solo), respectively. Tre Watson had three tackles of his own, including a sack and a tackle for a loss. Starting next to Isaiah Davis, Watson was all over the field Saturday, setting up his teammates to make tackles if he wasn’t making them himself. True freshman Jordan Mosley looks like he’s benefitting from enrolling early as well, finishing with two solo tackles.

Adam McLean picked up where he left off at the end of last season when he was starting to finally come into his own. On a screen pass to Anthony McFarland toward the end of the first quarter, the 6’2, 305-pound McLean engulfed the 5’8, 208-pound running back, dragging him to the ground to end the offense’s drive.

Over the past three seasons, Canada’s offenses have averaged 34.5 points per game. Anything similar will be enough to win football games at Maryland, but if the Terps are to take the next step, it’ll be the emergence of a formidable defense that helps them get there. If Saturday was any indication, the foundation is there.