As the season rapidly approaches, we are wrapping up our Maryland football position previews this week with a look at the defensive back unit today and the special teams units on Friday.
While the Terps secondary was at times inconsistent during a shortened 2020 season, they did make strides, providing hope to Maryland fans that they will take an even greater step forward in 2021.
“Our secondary I thought was one of the more improved units of our team last season,” head coach Mike Locksley said after the team's first scrimmage last week.
Maryland’s 2021 defensive back depth
|Jakorian Bennett||Senior||6 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBUs|
|Nick Cross||Junior||23 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBUs, 1 FF|
|Corey Coley Jr.||Freshman||High School (3-star recruit)|
|Jayon Venerable||Freshman||High School (3-star recruit)|
|Tarheeb Still||Sophomore||20 tackles, 8 PBUs|
|Isaiah Hazel||Junior||4 tackles, 1 PBU|
|Jordan Mosley||Senior||41 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 PBUs|
|Dante Trader||Freshman||High School (3-star recruit)|
|Kenny Bennett||Senior||9 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBUs|
|Beau Brade||Sophomore||3 tackles|
|Deonte Banks||Junior||11 tackles, 1 PBU|
|Levonte Gater||Junior||7 tackles, 1 PBU|
|Glendon Miller||Sophomore||2 games, no stats|
Maryland will have a considerable number of returners back in the lineup
One of the reasons the coaching staff expects continued improvement and success from Maryland’s secondary this season is because of the veteran presence and experience in the room. That starts with senior Jordan Mosley and junior Nick Cross.
Both guys have played a key role in Maryland’s defense for years now. Cross is an explosive back who made plays all over the field for the Terps in 2020. In just four games last year, Cross recorded 23 total tackles, 14 of which were solo, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. He was awarded an All-Big Ten honorable mention after the season.
Cross is expected to take an even bigger leap this season as he made the 2021 Pro Football Focus Preseason All-Big Ten second team.
Mosley has also developed into a quality defensive back for the Terps throughout his time in College Park. In five games last year, Mosley had 41 total tackles, 24 of which were solo.
To build on that veteran presence are more skilled defensive backs in senior Kenny Bennett and junior Deonte Banks.
Bennett started two games as a defensive back in 2020 and appeared in all five. He had eight tackles, two pass breakups and an interception. Banks started three games at defensive back last year while also appearing in all five. He posted 11 tackles and one pass breakup.
Jakorian Bennett and Tarheeb Still round out a deep secondary that should give opposing quarterbacks problems in the passing game. Jakorian, a senior, had six tackles, two pass breakups and a tackle for a loss in four games in 2020.
Still is one of the younger guys in the cornerback room, but is also one of the more talented. Still started all four games he played as a freshman in 2020. He led the nation with two pass breakups per game and was named a freshman All-American by The Athletic.
Maryland will have a rotating cast of experienced and talented defensive backs that will help bolster the Terps defense.
There are still areas to improve for the defensive backs
While Locksley has lauded Maryland’s defensive backs for the strides they have made, there are areas they can improve to build on an already sound room. One of those areas they need to build on to have greater success in 2021 is creating turnovers.
While Maryland played the fewest games in the Big Ten last year, they had the fewest interceptions in the conference with just two in five games.
The Terps had success breaking up passes and forcing opposing quarterbacks to throw into areas with little space. Maryland had two of the top five cornerbacks in the Big Ten rank in pass breakups per game in Nick Cross and Tarheeb Still.
That is certainly encouraging and led to an improved secondary last year. However, if Maryland can force more turnovers with its strong coverage, it can give its offense extra opportunities to put points on the board.
With the tremendous depth Maryland has at the position, Locksley very well may have fresh faces give a hand while giving starters extended rest throughout a game. That could potentially create opportunities for turnovers.
It won't be the deciding factor in whether Maryland achieves success this year, but the turnover battle could play a key role in some close games, and Locksley and his staff hope the Terps' defensive backs can create more of them.