Young Secondary Confident, Competing Ahead of Season Opener
The secondary has a tall task as they look to replace both starting cornerbacks from a season ago. The midseason loss of Tino Ellis vaulted a trio of underclassmen into larger roles as that valuable experience comes in handy in 2020. But it’s not the only change for the backline as a coaching change saw Cory Robinson on his way out and former Giants assistant Henry Baker in as the new cornerbacks coach. An offseason filled with turnover has since settled in as the unit brings the swagger to the defense.
“The energy is through the level, man. Defense is competing, offense is competing, they got playmakers on the other side, we’re just trying to do our job on the defensive side,” junior cornerback Tahj Capehart said. “We’re definitely getting after it at practice, talking a little crap to the offense going back and forth, definitely getting after it and we’re excited about the season.” The added energy is a refreshing theme for Maryland fans as a wave of nearly thirty additions revamps the 2020 roster, but the cornerbacks know they have big shoes to fill as they hope to get back on track.
Maryland ranked near the bottom in every defensive statistical category a season ago and now, the youth within the unit enters 2020 with a chip on their shoulder. The offensive side of the ball took advantage to connect in open space during their down time to work on chemistry and timing, but the added talent at wide receiver has only made it tougher for the cornerbacks in practice. Capehart knows exactly that.
“It’s definitely competitive. Those guys are fast, they can catch, they move, they’re quick so you have to be on your Ps and Qs and you have to know what’s going on in the rest of the defense in order to do your job as well to keep up with these guys. Definitely playmakers on the other side.” Inexperience isn’t specific to just Maryland, but who the Terps have in their secondary gives them invaluable support. Senior safety Antwaine Richardson returns alongside sophomore phenom Nick Cross to man the backline and provide a strong sense of trust in the pair of safeties, but for Capehart and the young cornerbacks, Richardson’s return also means the Terps have someone they can now lean on.
“Antwaine knows every position on the field so any question, anything, we just go to Antwaine. He brings the energy, he’s the leader of the group, basically. I’m definitely glad Antwaine is back on the field with us.” For Capehart, he has his own personal goals he’s looking to tackle this season but added the public focus is “to stay focused on the playbook and make sure I can make a difference for the Maryland Terrapins this season.” The converted wide receiver is focused on locking down the starting spot as the team’s nickel cornerback, but Capehart noted the “different mentality” that Jakorian Bennett, Tarheeb Still and Devyn King has brought to a unit that has grown together.
“I feel like they bring a different mentality. I feel we’re close as a group, all on the same communication. I feel like we’re ready to take that step forward as a defensive back group to be a really good group this year. I’m excited for our group.”
With four more weeks to iron out the defensive kinks, Capehart and the defense are maximizing the available time.
“We’re all taking advantage of this time getting the playbook more, watching film more, we’re all trying to stay ahead of the game. We all know what’s at stake and we try to stay out the way, stay in the house and stay social distant with our mask on. We all know what’s going on and the world we live in today so in order for us to play football, we have to do the right thing.”