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Projecting Maryland football’s defensive depth chart after spring camp

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Where the Terps stand on the defensive side of the ball (and on special teams).

Maryland football Ayinde Eley spring game Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

With Maryland football’s spring practice in the books, it’s time to look at how the depth chart could shake out during the season. We looked at the offense Tuesday, and now we’re moving to the other side of the ball.

It’s a new defensive system for the Terps, who now run a base 3-4 scheme. It’s not wildly different from the 4-2-5 in place during the DJ Durkin era, but a few players are moving around. It’s harder to find an exact pecking order at every defensive position right now, but here’s a series of educated guesses based on observations from spring practice, 2018 production and general gut feelings. (We’ve got a bonus special teams section at the bottom, too.)

Defensive end

Starter(s): Lawtez Rogers
Challengers: Brett Kulka, Tyler Baylor, B’Ahmad Miller
Coming soon: Anthony Booker, Deshawn Holt, Sam Okuayinonu

With Jesse Aniebonam and Byron Cowart graduating, Maryland has fewer known quantities here than anywhere else on defense. Kulka has been a rotational player throughout his career, but injuries kept him out of practice, and Rogers stepped up and won a share of the Randy White Defensive Lineman Award this spring. He had the Terps’ lone tackle for loss in the spring game, but Maryland will need him to develop as a pass rusher for this unit to take the next step.

Nose tackle

Starter: Adam McLean
Backups: Breyon Gaddy, Oluwaseun Oluwatimi
Switched to offensive guard this spring, could switch back: Austin Fontaine

McLean is the lone returning starter up front, making 11 starts and tallying 36 tackles with a sack last season. Oluwatimi played with the first-team defense in the spring game, and Gaddy had a pair of tackles himself Saturday afternoon, but the senior still appears to hold the upper hand here.

As mentioned in the offensive preview, Fontaine switched sides of the ball during camp and seemed to play with more confidence at his new position. If I had to guess, I think he stays there.

Defensive tackle

Starter: Keiron Howard
Challengers: Cam Spence, Brandon Gaddy, Jalen Alexander

Howard has never been a starter, but he’s got 35 total tackles and four sacks across the last two years. The others are all underclassmen with promise; Spence and Gaddy are redshirt sophomores, Alexander a redshirt freshman. Spence has battled injuries throughout his career, but could make a push if healthy. This race probably won’t be settled until the end of August.

Oseh Saine, another rising redshirt senior, had 23 tackles last season, one more than Howard. He’s still listed on the team’s online roster but wasn’t on either roster for the spring game.

JACK/BUCK/OLB

Starter: Durell Nchami
Challenger: Bryce Brand
Coming soon: Deshawn Holt

This position can be part of the defensive line or linebacking corps depending on the scheme, and this spring, Nchami and Brand have practiced with the outside linebackers. With Aniebonam gone, there’s a little less size at this position, but Nchami can still get into backfields and make plays. I have Holt (listed as 6’5/220) slotting here when he gets on campus, and it’s possible one of the defensive ends listed above (maybe Baylor) transitions here).

Outside linebacker

Starter: Keandre Jones
Backup: Ahmad McCullough
Coming soon: Cortez Andrews, Kameron Blount, Mitchell Agude

Jones wasn’t able to produce much during his three years at Ohio State, but he’s become a first-stringer and leader from the moment he came to College Park (he’s a co-recipient of the Jim Tatum Leadership Award). McCullough looked good in the spring game, and this position should get an infusion of depth when the high school and JuCo recruits arrive.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Ayinde Eley, Isaiah Davis, Chance Campbell (2 spots)
Backups: Fa’Najae Gotay, Wyatt Cook, David Brownlee

Davis was held out of spring camp with an injury, but has 164 total tackles to his name over the last two seasons and won’t relinquish a starting spot easily. Eley won the EJ Henderson Linebacker Award in the spring, and the redshirt sophomore seems poised for a breakout season. Campbell appeared mostly on special teams last season, but saw first-team reps all spring in Davis’ absence.

Gotay is still listed as a defensive back on the roster and would be undersized at this position, but spent time with the group in camp and could be an intriguing name to watch going forward. Cook and Brownlee are walk-ons, but Cook is a former three-star recruit who had the lone interception in the spring game.

Cornerback

Starters: Tino Ellis, Marcus Lewis
Challenger: Rayshad Lewis*
Backups: Vincent Flythe, Sean Savoy, Ken Montgomery, Kenny Bennett
Coming soon: Deonte Banks, Lavonte Gater, Erwin Byrd

* Lewis did some wide receiver drills after suffering an injury, but don’t expect him to switch back to offense

Ellis has been as dependable as any Terrapin throughout his career, appearing in 36 games with 19 starts at corner. Marcus Lewis reportedly quit the team at one point last season and didn’t see the field down the stretch, but has bought in to the new staff and won the Chad Scott Defensive Back Award for the spring. Rayshad Lewis saw time as a nickel corner last year, and while that’s no longer part of Maryland’s base defense, he should still have a meaningful role in the slot.

Savoy was a wide receiver at Virginia Tech who switched to cornerback upon transferring to Maryland. He hasn’t officially received word on a hardship waiver from the NCAA, but should be a rotational player if deemed eligible. Flythe, Montgomery and Bennett all looked promising, although there doesn’t seem to be much separation in camp.

Safety

Starters: Antoine Brooks Jr., Deon Jones
Challengers: Jordan Mosley
Backups: Fofie Bazzie, Raymond Boone
Coming soon: Nick Cross, Treron Collins
Out for season: Antwaine Richardson

Brooks has moved from nickel corner to strong safety and will slide into the spot manned by Packers first-rounder Darnell Savage Jr. last season. Richardson was the incumbent starter on the other side, but tore his ACL early this spring and will likely miss all of 2019. Jones and Mosley are the next men up, with Jones appearing to hold a slight edge at the moment.

Bazzie and Boone aren’t too far behind, and Cross could very easily shake up the positional battle when he arrives on campus. The four-star recruit from DeMatha is Maryland’s highest-rated signee in five years, and he’s got the talent to make an immediate impact one way or another.

Special teams

Kicker
1. Joseph Petrino
2. Mike Shinsky
3. Paul Inzerillo

Punter
1. Anthony Pecorella
2. Bentley Faulkner

Petrino was steady as a rookie placekicker, drilling his first 11 career field goals and finishing the season 12-of-14. His longest make was from just 40 yards, but that’s certainly not the extent of his range. Shinsky, who has one career field goal to his name, is a viable backup.

With Wade Lees gone, Maryland’s punter situation looks less than ideal. Faulkner was the only player on the roster this spring even listed as a kicker/punter; Shinsky filled in as the Red Team’s punter in the spring game and struggled. With Pecorella committed in the 2019 class (albeit not on scholarship), the outlook is better than the spring roster would suggest, although adding one more to the mix couldn’t hurt.

In the return game, Maryland brings back Javon Leake, who ran back 17 kicks with one touchdown in 2018. Jeshaun Jones is the only returning player who returned a punt last year, but there are a handful of players shifty enough to join the mix with him. Spring ball didn’t provide much of a glimpse into this, but as with everything, there are certainly more answers to come.