Terps Football: 2017 Season Preview – The Safeties
Over the course of the past few seasons, the safety position has been one of consistent strength for the Terrapins. During former head coach Randy Edsall’s tenure, players like Eric Franklin, Matt Robinson, Anthony Nixon, and Sean Davis were roaming the defensive backfield. And now, under current head coach DJ Durkin, the team will be looking to continue that trend with players like Denzel Conyers, Markquese Bell, and Qwuantrezz Knight.
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Markquese Bell (Freshman)
2017 Projection: Starter (Free)
2016 Statistics (High School): 76 tackles (3.0 for loss), 2 INT, 1 fumble forced, 3 pass breakups
Bell comes to College Park as a 4-star recruit from Bridgeton High School in New Jersey. He was ranked as one of the best high school players in the state last year, and one of the better safeties in the 2017 class overall. At 6’2”, 208 lbs. he certainly looks the part, and enrolling early at Maryland gave him the opportunity to participate in spring practices.
I have projected Bell to serve as the team’s starting free safety in 2017. While he is just a true freshman, his experience in the spring ought to be able to put him ahead of some of the more experienced safeties on the roster. However, he will still have to earn this job against some stiff competition coming from Darnell Savage, Jr. and Elijah Daniels.
Denzel Conyers (Redshirt Senior)
2017 Projection: Starter (Strong)
2016 Statistics: 13 tackles (0.0 for loss), 0 INT, 0 fumbles forced, 0 pass breakups
Conyers was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing all but three games last season due to a torn ACL. It was big news for Durkin’s defense, as he was off to an excellent start in 2016. In the team’s preferred single-high coverages, Conyers essentially acts as an outside linebacker in nickel formations. He uses his size and physicality very well in the middle against the run, and in the flats against the pass.
I have projected Conyers to serve as the team’s starting strong safety in 2017. While the free safety position is up for grabs, he ought to be able to lock down the strong safety spot. Look for him to have a solid end to his career in College Park if he can stay healthy this season.
Darnell Savage, Jr. (Junior)
2017 Projection: Second-Team (Free)
2016 Statistics: 59 tackles (3.5 for loss), 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 0 fumbles forced, 4 pass breakups
Savage, Jr. started in all but one game at safety for the Terrapins in 2016, and will be looking to hold onto the free safety job this season. His 59 tackles were good for 3rd on the team, and his 4 pass breakups were among the team’s leaders as well. His best game came against Nebraska, where he posted 11 tackles.
I have projected Savage, Jr. to serve as Bell’s primary backup at free safety in 2017. However, this position is up for grabs and may feature a rotation between Bell, Savage, Jr., and Daniels. He worked at nickel cornerback in the Red-White Spring Game, so look for him to compete for that job as well with RaVon Davis.
Josh Woods (Senior)
2017 Projection: Second-Team (Strong)
2016 Statistics: 41 tackles (1.0 for loss), 0 INT, 0 fumbles forced, 2 pass breakups
Woods was largely expected to be one of Maryland’s starting safeties last season, but he lost his job to Savage, Jr. during summer practices. He wound up starting in 5 of the team’s games, and posted some good numbers. However, 2017 will be his final chance to break through before graduation.
I have projected Woods to serve as Conyers’ primary backup at strong safety in 2017. If the NCAA hadn’t granted Conyers an extra year of eligibility, Woods would likely own a starting job. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff gets him onto the field this season.
Elijah Daniels (Sophomore)
2017 Projection: Third-Team (Free)
2016 Statistics: 8 tackles (0.0 for loss), 0 INT, 0 fumbles forced, 1 pass breakup
Daniels was one of many true freshmen defensive backs who saw a lot of the field in 2016. Along with his twin brother Elisha, he committed to Maryland as a 3-star recruit from Florida. He was even able to start against Ohio State last year, and posted 4 tackles in that game.
I have projected Daniels to serve as the team’s third-string free safety in 2017. However, he may very well wind up as a member of a rotation at the position.
Qwuantrezz Knight (Sophomore)
2017 Projection: Third-Team (Strong)
2016 Statistics: 27 tackles (0.5 for loss), 0 INT, 0 fumbles forced, 0 pass breakups
Aside from having the best name on the team, Knight was probably the most impressive of the true freshmen who saw playing time at defensive back last season. He came to College Park as a 3-star recruit from the state of Florida, and started at safety against Indiana. He posted 6 tackles in 3 different games (Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State).
I have projected Knight to serve as the team’s third-string strong safety in 2017, but the coaching staff will also find ways to get him onto the field. For many of these safeties, the best chance for playing time this season may come as a nickel or dime back. Regardless, this is an extremely deep group of players.