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Maryland Terapins Football Preview: State of the 2017 Defense

We take an in-depth look at all things Maryland Terrapins defense for 2017.

We continue our week-long look at the Maryland Terrapins, but the focus turns defensive this time around.

With head coach D.J. Durkin being a defensive-minded coach, one would expect this group to be the calling card of his era. If that is the case, it wasn’t a good start. But, transition can take some time. So, we’ll be watching to see how the transition takes place heading in to year two.

Preview Week: Lessons from 2016 | State of the Offense | Bold Predictions | talking10 Podcast | Impact Players |

Let’s take a look at the good and bad news facing the Maryland Terrapins defense in 2017.

Key Players Returning: Jesse Aniebonam, DE; Kingsley Opara, NG; Jermaine Carter; ILB

Key Players Gone: Will Likely, CB; Alvin Hill, CB

 

The Good News Is…

Things can’t get much worse for the Terps defense. No seriously, they can’t. Maryland finished last season 11th in scoring and rushing defense, 9th in passing defense and 12th in total defense. That’s simply not going to cut it for a team that is looking to compete with the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

With the head coach being a defensive guy like Durkin is, certainly he is going to figure out a way for the defense to be more competitive for the upcoming season. Part of that is the hope that players who made the transition last year make a leap with the extra comfort level as to what is going on.

A year of film, coaching and understanding each other should help the returning players, and then add in a full class of recruits that fit what Durkin is trying to do. That’s a recipe that could be successful going forward.

At least this group knows what not to do to be successful on the defensive side of the ball.

The Bad News Is…

Those who are in a position to make the changes for the defense may be a year or two away from making an impact. Names like Jesse Aniebonam, Jermaine Carter and Shane Cockerille are leaders for this defense, but they all were inconsistent at best last season.

In order for this group to move up like we have talked about they need to be pushed to a higher level. That competition is likely a bit too far off for that to realistically happen this year. Talented young players like Deon Jones and Breyon Gaddy may be in the two-deep this year, but are new recruits ready to also step in quickly?

We’ll have more on the recruits who could have an impact on this team in 2017, but overall the question for the defense seems to be if there’s enough quality competition to push this group forward. I don’t think the answer is yes, at least not for another year and another quality recruiting class in place.

The Good News Is…

There is a senior defensive line to work with. Sure, Aniebonam, Kingsley Opara and Cavon Walker weren’t stellar last season as a group, but they are the most experienced and talented group on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, if Aniebonam shows up this season like he did late in 2016, the Terps may have a player opposing teams really have to gameplan around. Opara is also a candidate to make a big impact for the defense, as he grew in to his position and showed an ability to eat up space in the middle. Can he also keep up the pace in getting in to the backfield?

He certainly did it last season with 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. That kind of production is a good foundation to build on. Now add in another offseason of coaching and getting the weight room right and we could have a star in the making.

The Bad News Is…

Will Likely is no longer on the team and neither is Alvin Hill. Few players on the Terps squad the past few years were as impactful as Likely was though. He was an excellent cornerback, but was also valuable to this team as a punt and kick returner.

Losing his abilities across the board is going to have a big impact on the 2017 season. Youth is likely to be served at both the cornerback and returner positions to say the least. Can that youth rise to the occasion and be impactful in a positive way? It is one of the big questions for the defense heading in to this season.

Hill’s graduation means both cornerback positions will have new starters and that can be a scary good or scary bad thing depending on what is left behind them. In the case of the Terps defense, there is a lot of uncertainty because only two other defensive backs recorded an interception last season.

JC Jackson appears poised to take on one of the starting roles and he is one of the two DB’s to have recorded an interception last year. But, is there depth beyond him seems to be the major question ahead and that’s not a fun one to have to find out the answer to as game time approaches.

What Does It All Mean?

All of the information that we know about the Maryland defense heading in to 2017 points to a team in need of an infusion of productivity. The talent seems to be there across the board, but most of said talent didn’t live up to potential last season.

There are individual parts to like or see potential in, but is this a group that is ready to make a step up as an entire unit? If not, it could be the reason this team doesn’t get back to a bowl game this season.

Overall, this defense could surprise or disappoint — we simply don’t know which way the talent will develop. Answers really didn’t come in the spring.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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