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Tre Watson is here to give Maryland’s linebackers some much-needed experience

The grad transfer from Illinois is immediately the elder statesman in the Terps’ linebacker group.

maryland football-roster-tre watson-illinois-depth chart-defense-stats Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Linebackers Week at Testudo Times. Our summer football preview series has already covered Maryland’s quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive line, defensive ends and defensive tackles. Now it’s time to look at a new member of the defense who should slide into a sizable role for his final college season.

Tre Watson, LB, No. 33

Height: 6’2
Weight: 235 lbs.
Year: Senior
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
High school: Tampa Catholic

Watson joins Maryland as a grad transfer from Illinois.

Watson committed to Illinois as a three-star recruit in the Class of 2014, when the Illini were still coached by Tim Beckman. Watson redshirted his first season there, and slid into a recurring role with 21 tackles when Bill Cubit became head coach in 2015. When new athletic director Josh Whitman took the reigns after that season, he quickly axed Cubit and brought in Lovie Smith, who came in and so far has not particularly done much in the way of improving that football program. Illinois’ defensive S&P+ slid from 19th to 59th in Smith’s first season there, and down to 89th in his second.

Watson, however, did have some success. He had eight starts as a sophomore in 2016 and was second on the team in tackles with 102. Watson was third on the team in tackles with 65 in seven starts as a junior. Those teams went 3-9 and 2-10. It was bad. So Watson elected to spend his final collegiate season elsewhere after graduating.

It’s great that Watson’s here, because he’s needed.

Jermaine Carter was a presence in the middle of Maryland’s defense for four straight seasons, and now he’s a Carolina Panther. That leaves a huge hole with not a lot of experience. Isaiah Davis is primed to step up as a junior, and he has 12 games and 70 tackles worth of experience from last season. But no other returning linebackers got to double-digits in either category, so Watson’s presence should be key. He’ll likely slide into the strong-side spot while Davis occupies the middle. Since Maryland usually plays in a 4-2-5, that’ll solve much of the Terps’ problems, at least for a season.

At the least, Watson can help bridge the gap at linebacker for a season.

If Watson can be a steady presence in 2018, that should give Nick Underwood, Ayinde Eley, Brett Shepherd, Jordan Mosley and the rest of Maryland’s linebackers a crucial year of development to prepare for 2018. By then, Underwood and Shepherd will be seniors and Eley a redshirt sophomore. As long as those players get rotational snaps this season, 2019 could look reassuring at linebacker. Add in some finally-developed former blue-chip defensive linemen and this defense could finally look like the one DJ Durkin envisioned when he took over the program.