Project 2014: The Cornerbacks
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun
The Maryland Terrapins’ cornerback unit took two huge hits in the early portion of the 2013 season when both Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson went down with injuries. McDougle spent the majority of his final season with the Terps on the bench after injuring his shoulder in the third game of the season against Connecticut. Johnson broke his toe in the season opener against Florida International, and was held out until the team’s final regular season game against North Carolina State. While these injuries were devastating, they allowed for younger and more inexperienced players to gain valuable playing time against some very talented ACC wide receivers. Those players will need to step up again in 2014, as the Terps have lost 2 of their top 3 cornerbacks to graduation.
2013 Pass Defense Rank: 57th (225.1 yards/game)
2013 Interceptions Rank: T-73rd (11 interceptions)
2013 Red Zone Defense Rank: 115th (90.6% scoring)
2013 Total Defense Rank: 44th (374.4 yards/game)
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Jeremiah Johnson – Redshirt Senior
2013 Statistics: 2 tackles (1.0 for loss), 0 passes broken up, 0 interceptions
After breaking his toe in the season opener against Florida International last season, Jeremiah Johnson is ready to lead the Terps’ cornerback unit into 2014. He is described as a “lock-down” cornerback, able to shut down opposing team’s best receiving weapons. He earned that reputation as a sophomore in 2012, when he started all 12 games and led the team with 0.67 passes broken up per game. He was poised for a great 2013 until his injury, but can make up for lost time with a solid 2014 campaign. Like Dexter McDougle last season, Johnson could very well be poised for an NFL career after this year. He has all the coverage skills necessary to be a professional cornerback, and his tackling abilities make him extremely valuable. He’ll start at the Terps’ boundary cornerback spot in 2014, across from sophomore William Likely.
Alvin Hill – Junior
2013 Statistics: 24 tackles (0.0 for loss), 2 passes broken up, 0 interceptions
One of the players who played a big role in the Terps’ defensive backfield when Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson went down with injuries was Alvin Hill. It took him a few games to get his feet wet, but he proved himself to be a valuable asset to a thin cornerback unit. He was the team’s 3rd-string cornerback behind William Likely and Isaac Goins, and saw decent playing time in most of the Terps’ games. He spent the previous season as a special teamer, recording just one tackle the entire year. With Johnson limited for spring practice, Hill is getting a chance to start in his place. That experience could help him blossom into more than a backup. But in 2014, he’ll be Jeremiah Johnson’s backup at the boundary cornerback spot, and will certainly see time on special teams.
Undray Clark – Redshirt Junior
2013 Statistics: N/A
A player who hasn’t yet played much of a role at all in his Terps career, Undray Clark is slowly climbing the depth chart at the cornerback position. He saw occasional playing time on special teams over the course of the past few seasons, but will be given a chance to impress the coaches in spring practice due to the injuries at an already thin cornerback position. I project him to serve as the 3rd-string boundary cornerback behind Jeremiah Johnson and Alvin Hill, so if he gets any playing time at all it will come on special teams. With Johnson graduating after this season however, he could be given a chance to start in his senior season.
William Likely – Sophomore
2013 Statistics: 70 tackles (4.5 for loss), 6 passes broken up, 1 interception
As a true freshman in 2013, William Likely was one of the most valuable players for the Terps’ entire team. Whether he made his contributions on defense or on special teams, Likely always managed to impress everyone watching him play. He was a 4-star recruit in 2013, and managed to enroll early in order to have a chance to contribute in a big way during his first season in College Park. He impressed the coaches enough in spring practice to earn himself a 2nd-string field cornerback position behind Dexter McDougle. He also played a big role on special teams, as he became the team’s primary kick and punt returner after Stefon Diggs broke his leg against Wake Forest. His punt return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech was one of the biggest plays of the Terps’ 2013 season. He stepped up in a big way after McDougle went down with his shoulder injury, and will start the 2014 season at field cornerback as a true sophomore. Many people wouldn’t believe he is just 5-foot-7 by watching him play, as he has great ball skills and is a very aggressive tackler. The future is bright for this extremely talented young cornerback.
Jarrett Ross – Sophomore
2013 Statistics: 7 tackles (0.0 for loss), 0 passes broken up, 0 interceptions
The younger brother of Terps’ running back Brandon Ross, Jarrett Ross is another one of the players who was forced to step up last season after injuries to two of the team’s top three cornerbacks. He spent most of his time on special teams, but has good potential and should see playing time on defense very soon. He underwent shoulder surgery in January, and it is unclear exactly how much recovery time he will need. He is not participating in spring practice, and may not be ready for the beginning of the 2014 season. The Terps are obviously hoping he’ll be ready, as the team’s cornerback unit is getting very thin. However, once Ross is ready to return, he should be able to make an impact. I project him to be the 2nd-string field cornerback behind fellow true sophomore William Likely in 2014.
Daniel Ezeagwu – Freshman
2013 Statistics: N/A
The Terps’ lone cornerback in the class of 2014 is 3-star Daniel Ezeagwu from Stafford, VA. He committed to Maryland on National Signing Day, adding much-needed depth to a very thin cornerback unit in College Park. He has great size for a cornerback, and is listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. He matches that size with great speed and agility, and 247Sports lists him as running the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds. I’m not completely convinced of the accuracy of that number, but even if it was 4.5 or 4.6 seconds it would still be impressive. His raw skills are very good, but his game will need a bit of fine-tuning, and the hope would be that he would not be needed to contribute immediately. However, with the cornerback unit as thin as it is, that may be easier said than done. Regardless, he looks like a very good addition to the Terps’ defensive backfield, and has the potential to start in the next few years. For now, I see him backing up Jeremiah Johnson at the boundary cornerback position.