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Maryland football’s defensive backfield should lead the way in 2018

It’s the most experienced position group on defense, and has the fewest unknowns.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Monday and the newest position group breakdown of the summer. We’re nearing the end of this exercise, as we’ve already profiled the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive linemen, defensive ends, defensive tackles and linebackers. This week, we’re hitting the defensive backfield.

Maryland’s secondary returns most of its major contributors from 2017.

JC Jackson and Josh Woods, of course, are the main exceptions here, but almost all of the core group of defensive backs is returning for the 2018 season. Tino Ellis, Darnell Savage, Antwaine Richardson, Qwuantrezz Knight, RaVon Davis and Antoine Brooks are all back and a year more seasoned.

That should make the Terps’ best defensive unit even better in 2018. A stingy defensive backfield, with cornerbacks who can play strong man coverage will allow DJ Durkin’s defense to play aggressive football, rather than having to adjust to the opposing offense.

Maryland’s defensive backs ranked No. 18 in havoc rate last year, meaning only 17 teams’ defensive backs made a tackle for loss, forced a fumble or defended a pass on a higher percentage of plays. With many of the key factors in that equation returning this season, that should remain a strong suit.

Maryland’s new faces are gunning for playing time.

The headline newcomer is former four-star recruit and Florida State Seminole Marcus Lewis. After spring camp, he’s favored to hold down the starting boundary corner position opposite Tino Ellis. Another Lewis who transferred in, Rayshad, is listed as a receiver and defensive back on the roster. He played both in spring ball, and his new number, 13, leaves him eligible for both positions.

The Terps signed three defensive backs in the Class of 2018: safety Raymond Boone and cornerbacks Vincent Flythe and Ken Montgomery. With a deep group of experienced players in front of each of them, it’ll be tough to crack the rotation, but these guys should definitely see the field this year, especially with the new four-game redshirt rule.

A handful of players redshirted last season and will be looking to break out this year. Deon Jones is the most high-profile among them. He sat out 2017 after a knee injury kept him off the field during his senior season of high school. He’ll look to crack the rotation at safety, where Woods’ departure leaves an opening.

Kenny Bennett and Fofie Bazzie will compete for rotational time as well. Bennett played in two games last season, but not enough for it to count as a year of eligibility. Bazzie was all over the field in Maryland’s spring game, notching six tackles.

Coaching should only make this group better.

This is theoretically true of everything, but the Terps’ defensive backs coaches are some of the best around. Aazaar Abdul-Rahim is in charge of the cornerbacks and Chuck Heater coaches the safeties. Although they’re both outstanding position coaches, their paths to College Park are vastly different.

Abdul-Rahim is a local hero, having started the football program at Friendship Collegiate in Washington. He spent two years on Alabama’s staff before coming home to coach at Maryland. His recruiting prowess is responsible for more than a dozen Terps signees over the past two seasons.

Heater, on the other hand, has been around the block once or seven times. He’s got over four decades of college football coaching experience. Maryland is his 13th coaching stop. Heater has coached defensive backs at 12 previous schools, even though he was a running back during his playing days in the early 1970s at Michigan.

Maryland’s talent in the defensive backfield, combined with these two coaches, could arguably end up being the best unit on the entire team. Only time will tell.