March 13, 2013
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - As the defensive line gets a new look following the graduations of Joe Vellano and AJ Francis, the secondary is using its experience to get ahead for next season.
For most of the defensive backs, this is the first year with the same defensive coordinator. Familiar with defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's scheme, the secondary is using spring practice to fine tune rather than learn a new defense.
"We have the same defense coming back; this is my first year since being here returning to the same defense," said junior Jeremiah Johnson. "That's definitely a plus. Coach Stewart has kept things the same so we're fortunate for that."
Senior cornerback Dexter McDougle and Johnson lead the Terps' secondary last season. As a junior, McDougle started in all 11 games, recording 60 tackles and five pass break ups. Johnson was tied for 12th in the ACC last season with .73 pass break ups per game. Sophomore Anthony Nixon saw playing time in each game with five starts in his first year as a Terp. Playing mostly a reserve role, Nixon recorded 41 tackles and two pass break ups.
Despite the established experience of the secondary, one new face is looking to make an impact. Will Likely, a four-star recruit from Belle Glade, Fla., graduated early to join the Terps for spring practice. Although just 5-foot-9, Likely more than makes up for his height with his ability, regularly challenging receivers for the ball.
"He's a competitor. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and he's very athletic," said Edsall. "He's got great feet, and he's just got a really good knack. He's been very well coached; you can tell, he's been very well coached. He's got good fundamentals, good technique and good patience."
The defensive backs are making the most of being able to practice against Maryland's talented receiving corps. The secondary has been pushed in the spring by the receivers' speed and agility.
"It's great," said Johnson. "You feel like you're going up against guys that are really going to push you every day. If you're not on you're A-game, they definitely will exploit you. Whether it's Stefon Diggs on the inside being explosive, Nigel [King], who's a big-body guy and physical, or Deon [Long], who's really quick, all those guys definitely push you to be the best."