Ralph Friedgen had a whole lot of solid defensive backs returning in 2009.
He went out and hired a defensive coordinator whose specialty was the secondary.
Consider it strength meeting strength.
And let there be no question: If there is one position on Maryland’s entire roster that qualifies as a strength, it is safety.
It’s been an interesting transformation, especially since it wasn’t that long ago the Terrapins were doing everything possible to minimize the harm potentially inflicted downfield.
New coordinator Don Brown is a fan of big, physical defensive backs. Cornerback Nolan Carroll might not be able to find a better fit if he searched through the entirety of the sport. Likewise, safeties Terrell Skinner, Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez figure to thrive as well in an aggressive scheme.
But there are more solid options in a once-thin unit.
Senior Jamari McCollough was arguably the second- or third-most valuable player on Maryland’s defense a season ago, bouncing between safety and cornerback and holding things together when injuries struck the secondary.
Anthony Wiseman is also back as a starting cornerback, after getting all the experience he could handle after the likes of Kevin Barnes and Richard Taylor went down with season-ending injuries.
And therein lies the greatest concern going forward. Yes, Carroll and Wiseman are capable options and eager to give Brown’s defense a spin, but what exactly is behind them?
* Taylor, the sixth-year graduate student whose career is littered with severe injuries.
* Cam Chism, who played mostly on special teams in what probably wasn’t the best payoff for burning a redshirt.
* Michael Carter, a junior who Maryland used a little once injuries struck.
* Sophomore Trenton Hughes and junior Brandon Jackson-Mills, two guys who saw a lot more time in two JV games last year than they have in their varsity careers.
* Maybe a freshman (Travis Hawkins?) who could step in and play. Maybe?
Those are all potential answers, but none is a sure thing at this stage. Which means if Brown’s frenetic defense is going to produce, it would probably be smart to keep Carroll and Wiseman healthy.
As for the safeties, it is arguably the deepest the position has ever been in Friedgen’s nine seasons.
The two starters (whoever emerges from the Skinner/Perez and McCollough/Tate battles) probably don’t quite match the 2003 combo of Madieu Williams and Dennard Wilson. But the current two-deep is filled with potential starters, and each is a fascinating option on the blitz.
One other thing is certain. The Terps have some clever players in their secondary, and it’s going to play well in Brown’s scheme. Carroll brings a quiet studiousness, and he’s an observant player whose instincts will serve him well. Same goes for Skinner, who started off great a season ago before a bum ankle hampered him in the middle of the fall.
Then there’s McCollough, who went from an organizational-type player likely consigned to special teams work entering 2008 to a valuable utilityman in large part because of his smarts. He also enjoyed a fine spring, and should be a major part in whatever zaniness Brown opts to unleash.
It’s clear the Terps are fairly pleased with what they possess in the secondary. A little depth at corner would help, but for the most part this looks like a strength —- and the position most likely to yield a breakout star for a team with few obvious big names heading into ‘09.
—- Patrick Stevens