Jeremiah Johnson’s role expands in Terps’ secondary

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Jeremiah Johnson was not sure exactly when he would arrive at Maryland.

He learned even before he participated in one practice just where he would have to make the most strides.

“It was more so in the weight room,” Johnson said. “It was like, ‘These guys are way ahead of me.’”

That was two years ago, when the cornerback came to College Park at all of 154 pounds. He’s now up to 185 pounds and in contention for a starting job with the Terrapins.

There’s playing time to be had. While Dexter McDougle returns at one cornerback position, the other slot is open after the graduation of Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes. Johnson and junior college transfer Isaac Goins are the early favorites to fill that role.

It’s a far better place than where Johnson sat coming out of high school as an undersized prospect. When Johnson committed to Maryland, then-Terps assistant James Franklin warned him there was a possibility he would need to grayshirt.

It meant months of waiting to find out whether he would join the Terps with the rest of his recruiting class or delay his enrollment for a semester. The prospect of spending the fall at a prep school wasn’t especially appealing, but a scholarship finally opened up less than two weeks before the start of camp.

“The whole summer, I still prepared like I was going to be able to come in,” Johnson said. “When they finally told me probably near the end of July I could come, it was definitely exciting.”

It would be a while before he found himself on the field. He redshirted in 2010, then bulked up to 170 pounds by the start of last season. Johnson didn’t play much in Maryland’s base defense, but he was still a regular special teams contributor and also found himself in the Terps’ nickel and dime packages at times.

That role promises to grow this fall, especially after an impressive offseason and a productive spring.

“He wants to be good,” coach Randy Edsall said. “He’s not afraid to work. He’s not afraid to push himself. I think that’s why he’s put himself in a position to be a starting corner.”

It is a competition likely to extend well into August. McDougle is the established entity, one of only three defensive players to start every game last season. Goins has impressed in his first spring with the Terps.

Then there’s Johnson, whose development could help provide Maryland with options in the fall.

“Me, him and Dex, we’re all competing for a starting job, but that doesn’t mean we all can’t eat - meaning we all can’t produce,” Goins said.

It’s a sharp change from Johnson’s arrival, when he wasn’t armed with the strength he now possesses.

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