Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics
Similarly to the Maryland offense, the Terrapins will really be tested on defense this season.
The defense figures to play some of the best offenses in the nation through the gauntlet of the Big Ten. Ohio State, Penn State, and Indiana are just a few of the opponents that the Terps will be tasked with shutting down.
Head coach Mike Locksley prides himself on defense and his roots as a coordinator for Alabama suggests that he is used to doing just that. The Terps are not Alabama, but they can emulate them in terms of how they play on defense. Locksley has really done a great job of getting some high-level players on that side of the ball.
Terrence Lewis, one of the highest rated players in all of the nation, is just the tip of the iceberg even though he will not play due to a torn ACL. Here are three of the most important players for the Terps’ defense:
Nick Cross, DB, Junior
Nick Cross is one of the most dynamic players that the Terps boast on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, many young Terrapins patrolled the secondary with Cross being one of many underclassmen seeing action. Cross leads a group with a lot of returning talent. He is the leader of the secondary, and has individual honors to elevate his status. He was named to Pro Football Focus’ preseason second-team All-Big Ten, and was All-Big Ten honorable mention last year.
Cross is a very talented player, no doubt, but he also relishes in the ability to cover the opposing team’s best player. Scheduled contests against Ohio State and Indiana will see the Terps going against some of the best pass catchers in the country. For Cross, he will be tasked with keeping these players at bay.
He uses his hands very well at the line of scrimmage and also is fast enough to keep up with any skill player. Cross has a deep knowledge of the way offenses work, and can read the quarterback as well as anyone. He will be seeing time at safety mostly, but will also see time as the slot corner and even as the outside corner depending on how injuries impact the team.
Mosiah Nasil-Kite, DL, Junior
The Terps will really be counting on Mosiah Nasil-Kite to anchor their defensive line. The Terps will need their front seven to play very well to mask the inexperience in the secondary. Many of the defensive backs are underclassmen.
In order to hide this lack of experience, Maryland will need to get into the backfield with regularity. That is where Nasil-Kite comes into play. He racked up four sacks last season, leading the team. He is a big body in the middle of the defensive line and routinely takes up two blockers. When teams decide to single-block him, he can burn them in a big way. Against Rutgers last year, he racked up two sacks and three tackles for a loss. He is a game wrecker, simply put.
The Terps’ defensive unit is much improved, but they are also very young. This season might be more of a development year, but that means that the young players will need to learn on the fly. Nasil-Kite has been around the block. He starred at Independence Community College in Kansas — famous for being the location for “Last Chance U”.
His technique is amazing, but he is not as quick laterally as some of the elite linemen at his position. Nonetheless, he was recognized with a PFF preseason All-Big Ten honor. Look for him to make a living in opponents’ backfield.
Tarheeb Still, DB, Sophomore
Tarheeb Still is far and away the most exciting player on Maryland’s roster. He is one of the hidden gems for Locksley, and he proved that right away. As a freshman, he started every game, and led the country in pass breakups. In addition, the Freshman All-American still has two more years minimum to solidify himself as one of the best defensive backs in Maryland history.
He can fly. Every single game, he will be matched up against the opposition’s best player. This season, he will go up against Chris Olave of Ohio State in what amounts to be one of the most exciting head-to-head battles of the season.
As far as his play, there are few weaknesses. It says a lot for a freshman to start so quickly. Compounding on it, that speaks to Still’s overall talent and passion for the game.
His release off the line of scrimmage is about as impressive as his overall play. He might have a tendency to use his hands a little too much, but that is not a major issue at this point. At this rate of constant improvement, it is reasonable to expect him to forgo his senior year of college eligibility and enter the 2023 NFL Draft, as he has a real shot at being a high pick.
The Terps may have their best defensive unit in years. Gone are the years of being unable to get off the field. Instead, they have a respectable unit that will not make it easy for opponents.
The only thing that can hold Maryland back is itself. The youthful inexperience potentially makes it susceptible to things like holding and other discipline-related mistakes. Hopefully, those issues do not prevent the Terrapins from taking a big step forward this season and continuing to rise up the ranks in the Big Ten.