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Maryland football’s new-look linebackers group brings strong potential into 2019

With new additions and players stepping up, there’s a lot of talent coming into the room.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football’s 2019 season starts in 40 days. It’s the first year of the Mike Locksley era, and fans are hopeful it can be the start of something special. Once again, we’re spending our summer running through the Terps’ position groups as fall camp approaches.

We’ve finished the offense, having looked at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen. Last week, we started our defensive previews with the defensive linemen. Now it’s time to focus on the linebackers, who saw plenty of changes in the offseason.

Maryland’s 2019 linebackers

Player Position Year 2018
Player Position Year 2018
Isaiah Davis ILB R-SR 96 tackles (51/45), 2 TFLs, 2 sacks
Nnamdi Egbuaba OLB/ILB R-SR 8 tackles (5/3)
Keandre Jones OLB/ILB SR At Ohio State (10 tackles, TFL, sack)
Shaq Smith OLB R-JR At Clemson (16 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, sack)
Bryce Brand JACK R-SO 3 tackles (3/0), 2 TFLs, FR
Ayinde Eley ILB R-SO 13 tackles (7/6), INT, PD, FR
Chance Campbell ILB SO 11 tackles (5/6)
Durrell Nchami JACK SO 15 tackles (8/7), 4.5 TFLs, sack, PD, FR
Ahmad McCullough OLB R-FR No stats (3 appearances)
Cortez Andrews OLB/S FR High School (3-star recruit)
Kameron Blount OLB FR High School (3-star recruit)
Deshawn Holt OLB/JACK FR High School (3-star recruit)
Walk-ons: Wyatt Cook, Bruce Miller, Kobi Thomas, Tanyi Makia, David Brownlee, Oladimeji Olayinka

(Editor’s note: Mitchell Agude, a JuCo transfer in the 2019 recruiting class, is not listed on the online roster and is ommitted from this table.)

Maryland is looking for its next star at this position.

The Terps have certainly had individual talent here in the last few years, even as the defense as a whole has been inconsistent. Jermaine Carter Jr. led Maryland in tackles three straight seasons, then Tre Watson transferred from Illinois and put up an All-Big Ten season, leading the conference with five interceptions and 108 total tackles. Both are in the pros now, with Carter entering his second year in Carolina and Watson shooting for a roster spot in Miami.

Isaiah Davis is the oldest remaining piece, having been with the team since 2015, when he played with older brother Sean. The now-redshirt senior is credited with just one start last season, but he was all over the field to the tune of 96 total tackles. He’ll face competition for his playing time, though, as Ayinde Eley and Chance Campbell impressed throughout the spring and seemed poised for breakout sophomore campaigns.

A pair of new additions will also be gunning for prominent roles.

Keandre Jones was committed to the Terps for most of the 2016 recruiting cycle, but flipped to Ohio State along with Dwayne Haskins just weeks before National Signing Day. After three quiet seasons with the Buckeyes, though, Jones is reuniting with Locksley in College Park. While his eligibility for 2019 still isn’t set in stone, he’ll have one year to leave his mark in his home state.

Then the Terps made another splash, adding Shaq Smith as a graduate transfer from Clemson. Smith, a four-star recruit in the 2016 class, figured to be a challenger for a starting spot on the defending national champions but will instead have two years of eligibility after coming back home. Smith seems more likely to play on the outside, and while it’s unclear what dominoes fall after that, the staff is happy to have to adjust.

If Jones is eligible to join Smith and both play to their potential, the duo could become one of the best in the Big Ten in short order.

In a 3-4 scheme, this group will be especially important.

Maryland doubled the number of linebackers in its base set in the offseason, and the new coaching staff actually includes a separate coach for inside linebackers (John Papuchis) and outside linebackers (Brian Williams). The outside players will be used more frequently as pass rushers, and one of these spots will be the JACK/BUCK spot that was classified as a defensive end in the previous system. Jesse Aniebonam started there last season, but the slightly smaller Durrell Nchami and Bryce Brand figure to lead the way there.

While there might be an adjustment period as players adapt to new roles, the talent is there throughout this position room. Between the returning production of Davis, breakthrough potential of Eley, Campbell and Nchami and the buzz surrounding Jones and Smith, there’s plenty to be excited about.