As part of our Maryland football summer preview series this summer, we’ve looked at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers. This week, our focus turns to defensive backs.
We gave an overview of the position and analyzed Antoine Brooks Jr. on Monday, broke down Tino Ellis and Marcus Lewis on Tuesday and looked at impact players Deon Jones and Jordan Mosley on Wednesday. Today, we are turning our attention to the slot cornerback, or nickelback, position.
Prior to the start of spring practices, Antoine Brooks Jr. was expected to return to the position. But after rising senior safety Antwaine Richardson tore his ACL during one of Maryland’s spring practices, Brooks will be moving to strong safety and replacing Green Bay Packers first-rounder Darnell Savage Jr.
Two former wide receiver transfers, Sean Savoy and Rayshad Lewis, are expected to take over the nickel cornerback position, where they’ll line up against opposing teams’ inside wideouts.
Rayshad Lewis, No. 13
Year: Redshirt junior
Hometown: Orlando, Fla.
High School: Bishop Moore Catholic
After spending his freshman year at Utah State as a wide receiver and recording 476 yards on 40 catches, Lewis — the son of Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis — announced he was transferring to Maryland in May 2017. Unlike Savoy, Lewis had to redshirt his first season in a Maryland uniform due to the NCAA transfer policy.
After redshirting in 2017, and with former Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore in the NFL, Lewis was one of the many wideouts looking to earn a role on the Maryland offense. But during spring 2018, Lewis was shifted to cornerback. He had previously played the position in high school, recording seven interceptions during his junior campaign. He was also at the spot for part of his freshman year as an Aggie. The Orlando native was originally recruited as a cornerback but said that college teams envisioned his frame as a better fit at the receiver position.
Lewis played in all 12 games for Maryland during the 2018 season, making appearances on defense and special teams. He recorded 17 tackles (12 solo) and returned seven kicks for 146 yards.
Sean Savoy, No. 29
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
High School: Woodrow Wilson HS
After a sensational senior season at Woodrow Wilson High School that included 949 receiving yards, 320 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, Savoy committed to Virginia Tech as the No. 92 wide receiver in the country and the No. 6 player out of Washington, D.C., per the 247Sports Composite.
Savoy immediately made an impact as a Hokie, starting in 12 games and recording 454 receiving yards, 116 rushing yards and six touchdowns. After one more season, where he appeared in nine games and posted 18 catches for 188 yards and two touchdowns, Savoy transferred to Maryland — one of the first transfers in the Mike Locksley era.
The DMV native was granted immediate eligibility and will have two seasons remaining. The decision to make Savoy eligible for the 2019 season most likely revolved around his ability to be close to his family again after his brother was shot and killed in October 2017.
Despite putting up impressive numbers on offense, Savoy was brought to Maryland as a defensive back, a position he hasn’t played since high school. But when Savoy occupied the position at that level, he demonstrated ball awareness capability and snagged five interceptions.
Although his highlights below are on the offensive side of the ball, there is no question that the converted corner will be a playmaker for the Terps. (If you look closely, you will see plenty of connections between Savoy and former Hokie and current Terp Josh Jackson.)
It’s Lewis’ position to lose, but Savoy will see time.
Although Savoy and Lewis will put their wide receiver experience to the test during fall camp, Lewis is expected to retain the nickel position that he saw time at last year. But Savoy should still see snaps as he continues to adjust to the position change. Both guys could also see time on special teams as valuable pieces for the kick and punt return units, as they have experience playing on that side of the ball.
With more collegiate offenses transitioning into spread systems with three and four wide receiver sets, the nickelback becomes essential to any team’s defense. Maryland’s secondary is loaded with veterans, featuring Marcus Lewis and Tino Ellis on the outside and Brooks on the back end. Although they have had limited time at cornerback at the college level, Lewis and Savoy will be asked to step up and own Maryland’s nickel position.