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Maryland football returns a strong stable of defensive backs in 2019

Our summer preview series rolls on as we reach Defensive Backs Week.

Illinois v Maryland Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Maryland football’s 2019 season starts in 33 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. Our previews on the other side of the ball have touched on the defensive linemen and linebackers. Now it’s time for a busy week of defensive backs coverage.

Maryland has a whopping 19 defensive backs on scholarship, including six new players this season. We’ll be going back and forth all week between cornerbacks and safeties, but here they are in separate tables.

Maryland’s 2019 cornerbacks

Player Year 2018
Player Year 2018
Marcus Lewis R-SR 5 games, 11 tackles, 2 PBUs
Tino Ellis SR 12 games, 23 tackles, 3 TFLs, INT, 11 PBUs
Rayshad Lewis R-JR 12 games, 17 tackles
Sean Savoy JR Played WR at Virginia Tech (18 rec, 188 yds, 2 TDs)
Kenny Bennett R-SO 2 games, 1 tackle
Vincent Flythe R-FR 3 games, no stats
Ken Montgomery R-FR DNP
Deonte Banks FR High School (3-star recruit)
Erwin Byrd FR High School (3-star recruit)
Lavonte Gater FR High School (3-star recruit)

Maryland’s 2019 safeties

Player Year 2018
Player Year 2018
Antoine Brooks SR 12 games, 68 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, INT, 3 PBUs
Antwaine Richardson** SR 12 games, 41 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, INT, 2 PBUs, FR
Deon Jones R-SO 8 games, 17 tackles, TFL, FF
Fofie Bazzie R-SO 1 game, no stats
Jordan Mosley SO 10 games, 29 tackles
Raymond Boone R-FR DNP
Fa'Najae Gotay (S/LB) R-FR 3 tackles, 0.5 TFLs
Nick Cross FR High School (4-star recruit)
Treron Collins FR High School (3-star recruit)
** out for season (torn ACL)

The secondary was solid but imperfect in 2018.

The Terps intercepted 18 passes last season, tied for fifth-most in the country and solo second in the Big Ten. While linebacker Tre Watson recorded five of those pickoffs, five different defensive backs grabbed at least one. Maryland also limited its opponents to a 54.3 percent completion rate, 17th-best in the nation.

However, it’s worth noting that opponents broke free for a lot more big plays in the passing game last fall. The Terps’ defense ranked 94th nationally in passing marginal explosiveness, down from 18th the season prior and eighth in 2016. Between those drive-altering plays and a few memorable pass interference penalties, there’s still room for this talented position group to grow.

One ace is gone, but most of the core returns.

Darnell Savage Jr. was a mainstay at safety for the last three seasons, starting 35 of 37 possible games and tallying 170 tackles and eight interceptions. He earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors in 2018, then shot up draft boards before being the first defensive back taken in April’s NFL Draft, going 21st overall to the Green Bay Packers.

It’s not usually easy to replace a first-round pick, but the Terps still have a strong group of seniors who will lead the secondary this season. They bring back Antoine Brooks Jr., who’s been a top playmaker each of the last two seasons; he’s expected to play primarily safety in the new scheme. At corner, Tino Ellis returns for his third year as a regular starter, while Marcus Lewis, who started early last season before leaving the team multiple times, is back and figures to reclaim his starting role.

The fourth senior starter was supposed to be Antwaine Richardson, but the safety tore his ACL in spring practice and is expected to miss all of the 2019 season. He’ll have to cheer from the sidelines as redshirt sophomore Deon Jones and true sophomore Jordan Mosley compete for his spot. Both players impressed in the spring, and they could be battling all the way to Week 1.

The Terps added plenty of depth in the offseason.

Maryland added five defensive backs in the 2019 recruiting class, highlighted by DeMatha’s Nick Cross, the No. 55 player in the country. Cross was committed to Florida State until flipping nearly a week after National Signing Day; he became the highest-rated prospect to sign with the Terps since Damian Prince in 2014. Mike Locksley and the new staff also brought in safety Treron Collins and cornerback Erwin Byrd, while corners Lavonte Gater and Deonte Banks committed under the old coaching staff and maintained their pledges.

Then there’s Sean Savoy, who’s both a transfer and a positional switch. Savoy played wide receiver at Virginia Tech for two seasons, but transferred ahead of the spring semester. Maryland brought him in as a defensive back even though he hadn’t played it until high school, and the 5’9 Savoy should fit into the slot corner spot alongside Rayshad Lewis, another former wide receiver and transfer.

That’s six total additions to offset just two subtractions (Savage and cornerback RaVon Davis). Add in a promising crop of still-young players — from cornerbacks like Kenny Bennett, Vincent Flythe and Ken Montgomery to safeties Fofie Bazzie and Raymond Boone and safety/linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay — and Maryland has no shortage of options in the secondary. It’ll be interesting to see how the depth chart shakes out at the end of August.