Last week I previewed what to expect from the Maryland football team’s offense in 2021, and this article will focus on the defensive side of the ball. The 2020 season saw a large number of new players take the field for the Terrapins defensively, and they collectively formed a unit that improved continuously as the year went on. New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart will be looking to build upon that late-season success as a compliment to what should be an explosive offense this year.
2020 Defensive Statistics
Total Defense: 430.0 yards allowed/game (#85 in country, #11 in conference)
Rush Defense: 230.0 yards allowed/game (#115 in country, #13 in conference)
Pass Defense: 200.0 yards allowed/game (#25 in country, #2 in conference)
Led by breakout freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still, Maryland’s pass defense was a Top-25 unit nationally last season and ranked just behind Penn State as the second-best in the Big Ten Conference. As has been the case far too often since joining the conference however, their rush defense was one of the worst in the country. Stewart’s primary task this season will be finding a group of defensive linemen who can consistently stop the run, and he’ll have a few more options for those roles than former defensive coordinator Jon Hoke did in 2020.
The Coaching Staff
Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach: Brian Stewart
Associate Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Outside Linebackers Coach: Ron Zook
Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach: Brian Williams
Inside Linebackers Coach: Brawley Evans
Cornerbacks Coach: Henry Baker
Maryland’s defensive coaching staff will feature two new faces in 2021. Stewart was hired to replace Hoke, who left after spending two seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator. Head coach Michael Locksley opted for familiarity with this hire, as the two coached together on Randy Edsall’s staff in College Park from 2012-14. Since his original tenure with the Terrapins, he’s spent time with Baylor, Nebraska, Rice, and the Detroit Lions.
After spending the last two seasons as an analyst, Zook has become an official part of Maryland’s coaching staff. He replaces George Helow, who spent last year as the team’s special teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach. His decades of coaching experience will provide invaluable knowledge to both Locksley and his players. As a result of this move, Evans will now be coaching inside linebackers after spending the previous two seasons as the outside linebackers coach.
At its core, Stewart’s defensive scheme is very similar to the one that Hoke ran during the last two seasons. His most formative coaching years came as an assistant under longtime NFL coach Wade Phillips, who’s always run an aggressive odd-front system. During the first year of his original stint in College Park, Stewart oversaw an extremely impressive one-year turnaround of Maryland’s defense. After ranking 102nd nationally in total defense during the 2011 season, the team ranked 56th the following year. Locksley is hoping for a similar immediate improvement this season.
Like Hoke, Stewart’s system is a blitz-heavy 3-4 defensive scheme. He likes to use all four of his linebackers in both his blitzing and coverage packages. During the 2012-14 seasons, he had a number of talented defensive backs who locked down the back end and allowed him to be more creative with his blitz schemes. He’ll have the same luxury this year, with both the cornerback and safety positions loaded with talented players.
Improving the team’s run defense is Stewart’s top priority, and it’s something he’s done successfully before. Before he arrived in College Park, the Terrapins ranked 111th in the country against the run. In just one season, he improved them to the 27th-best run defense nationally. Most of the defensive linemen who received snaps last season were brand new to the program, with many coming from the junior college ranks before the year began. With a year of experience under their belts and a number of talented freshmen in the team’s 2021 recruiting class, Stewart should be able to find a group who can be successful for him this season.
The Depth Chart
DE: 1. Lawtez Rogers, 2. Joseph Boletepeli OR Darrell Jackson
NT: 1. Ami Finau, 2. Taizse Johnson OR Almosse Titi
DE: 1. Mosiah Nasili-Kite OR Sam Okuayinonu
SAM: 1. Ahmad McCullough OR Demeioun Robinson
ILB: 1. Ruben Hyppolite II, 2. Gereme Spraggins
ILB: 1. Fa’Najae Gotay, 2. Branden Jennings
WILL: 1. Durell Nchami, 2. Deshawn Holt OR Zion Shockley
CB: 1. Tarheeb Still, 2. Kenny Bennett OR Corey Coley, Jr.
CB: 1. Jakorian Bennett OR Deonte Banks
FS: 1. Jordan Mosley, 2. Isaiah Hazel OR Glendon Miller
SS: 1. Nick Cross, 2. Beau Brade
Links to my positional previews are embedded in the depth chart above.
While most of the offensive starters are set in stone, things are a bit more fluid on the defensive side of the ball. Stewart has a much deeper unit to work with than Hoke did last season, which may result in more rotations during games in order to keep all of his players fresh. The defense will be led by Cross, who’s taken on a leadership role over the last few years and will be on the field for nearly every snap as long as he’s healthy.
The biggest battles going on during summer practices are for pass-rushing snaps and the starting cornerback job across from Still. Stewart will likely use a heavy rotation of players at both outside linebacker positions, but the blue-chip freshman duo of Robinson and Shockley may force their way into additional snaps as the year goes on. Banks and Jakorian Bennett are the top contenders for the other cornerback spot, with the latter likely leading the competition for the starting nickel job. But the coaching staff has been very impressed with freshman Coley, Jr. after he enrolled early and may eat into the snaps of some of the more experienced players above him on the depth chart.
Zack is a financial analyst for a defense contractor in Washington, DC. The Owings Mills native focuses most of his efforts on Maryland Football recruiting and individual coach and player pieces; but also covers Terps Basketball. He has established relationships with Big Ten beat reporters across the conference, which he utilizes in his game previews. Now a Sr. Terps Analyst for BSL, Zack can be reached at: [email protected]