As we continue our Maryland football preview series this summer, it’s time to take a look at the linebacker group. Thomas gave an overview Monday, Sean took a look at a pair of up-and-comers looking to make an impact this year and Lamar previewed the veterans of the room on Wednesday. Now I’ll dive into the two offseason transfer pickups.
Last season, Tre Watson stepped into the program as a graduate transfer from Illinois and quickly becoming a leader for the team en route to leading the conference in interceptions and tackles for a First Team All-Big Ten selection. He’s now in the NFL, but the Terps have two more offseason linebacker additions who hope their time in College Park plays out similarly.
Shaq Smith, No. 5
Year: Redshirt junior
Hometown: Baltimore, Md.
High School: IMG Academy, St. Frances, Calvert Hall
Smith, who spent the last two years playing outside linebacker at Clemson, was a five-star recruit out of high school, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Maryland and the top outside linebacker in the country by ESPN. As a backup last season, Smith produced 16 tackles and a sack.
His athleticism was apparent in play for the Tigers, often pouncing on defenders with quick bursts of speed. Through his two years under coach Dabo Swinney, he had 30 tackles, a sack and an interception. Smith started in the spring game for the Tigers, leading all players with seven tackles, and was projected to start for the defending national champions before transferring to Maryland in June.
Smith graduated from Clemson in three years and will be immediately eligible for the Terps with two years left to play. Maryland needs someone to step up as the top linebacker after losing Watson, and Smith is the perfect guy to do so. He’ll bring both on-field potential and experience after carving out a spot in a championship program. Clemson’s staff remarked about his leadership in the spring, so similarly to Watson, he looks to primed to come in and become the head of the defense.
Keandre Jones, No. 4
Hometown: Olney, Md.
High School: Good Counsel
Jones transferred to Maryland in late January just as the spring semester began, but it’s still unclear whether he’ll play his final college season this year or the next. As of this week, with the season readily approaching, a team spokesperson said there was still no update on whether he’ll be immediately eligible for the season.
Coming out of high school, Jones was a four-star recruit, as well as ESPN’s No. 3 outside linebacker and 26th-best player in the country. He was pledged to Maryland for months, but like Dwayne Haskins, switched his commitment to Ohio State. Last season, Jones had 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, pass-breakup and a blocked punt for the Buckeyes. In three years at Ohio State, he had 29 total tackles, but never had a start and primarily played on special teams.
If ruled eligible, Jones will make a monster pairing with Smith and is likely to play a big role on the defense. Locklsey has said Smith will play outside, so Jones will likely switch to the inside position. He’s been waiting for his opportunity to make an impact, and at Maryland he’ll be able to do with a chip on his shoulder. Regardless of whether he can hit the turf on game day, he’s been with the team since the spring and his experience in an accomplished program like Ohio State will be a positive factor in the Terp locker room.