Who are the Maryland Terrapins under head coach D.J. Durkin? Are they the group who made a bowl appearance in his first season and were able to run over just about everyone…or are they the snake-bitten and injury-riddled crew that got pounded on in 2017?
It’s an important year for the Terps, and with back-to-back Top 30 recruiting classes, a lot is expected of this program going forward. Can promise turn in to production? That may depend on what happens with a few players.
Who are those players that will likely have the biggest impact on the 2018 Terps season? Let’s take a look at the names you should be paying attention to in 2018.
Jesse Aniebonam, DE
Aniebonam went in to last season hoping to build off a 2016 that saw him 46 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. Instead, he played just part of the season opener with Texas and was never seen again on the year thanks to an ankle injury. Without him, the Terps managed just 16 sacks on the season in 2017, good for 13th in the Big Ten.
If Maryland wants to actually get back to a bowl game in year three of the Durkin era, it needs the defense to stop giving up 30-plus points per game. Aniebonam’s return should help despite the loss of two productive linebackers behind him.
Byron Cowart, DE
If you are sensing a theme, you would be right — Maryland has to get better on the edge against teams that have killed them there the past two seasons. Cowart was once a 5-star recruit (Rivals and ESPN’s No. 1 overall recruit in the country) and a gem for the Auburn Tigers. That was 2015, and Cowart hasn’t really been the force most people believed he would be. A transfer to Maryland seems to have rejuvenated his career and he looked like a potential star throughout much of spring ball.
Pair a potential talent like Cowart with a ready-made star like Aniebonam and the Terps suddenly have one scary defensive line for opposition to deal with — something they haven’t really had in Durkin’s two years in College Park.
Kasim Hill, QB
As intriguing as Tyrrell Pigrome was in the opener last season against Texas, Hill is the better fit for new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s philosophy. The freshman (because he will most likely get last season back) is a better mix of pass-first, run-second for Canada’s more pro-orientated philosophy.
Hill came in to the Texas game and calmly led the Terps to a massive road upset of the Longhorns in the middle of a chaotic game. We’ll see if Hill or Pigrome win the job in fall camp, but if you’re looking for a player to lead this team with the coaching staff that is now in place, Hill is the one I would look to as the better fit.
All I do know for sure is that this season has to be the one where at least one quality quarterback stays healthy…right?
Rayshad Lewis, WR
While there is a ton of potential on Maryland’s offense, it is going to be hard to make up for the loss of D.J. Moore to the NFL. Enter a veteran transfer in former Utah State wide receiver Rayshad Lewis, who came to the Terps following a breakout true freshman season with the Aggies. He had 40 catches for 476 yards with seven starts.
If he can handle the increased level of competition and size, Lewis could be exactly what the doctor ordered in helping to replace some of production lost by Moore’s departure. He won’t be the only one counted on, as Tavion Jacobs and Jahrvis Davenport are seniors, but only but Jacobs has proven himself. He’s the only one returning to the team that had a touchdown reception (5 to be exact) in 2017 (to go along with 47 receptions).
Oh, and did we mention he is the son of future NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis? Ya, that should make him an intriguing figure to watch to say the least.
Tre Watson, ILB
It’s not often an impact player comes courtesy of another Big Ten program, but when the Terps lost two quality starting linebackers, Tre Watson (formerly of Illinois) became a big piece to solving the defensive woes in College Park.
Watson had over 100 tackles for the Illini in 2016 and picked up 65 tackles in nine games for Lovie Smith’s crew last season. He will have some help with rising junior Isiah Davis alongside him, but Watson has a chance to get out of a bad situation and become a star quick in the defense the Terps run.
There’s a lot of talk about talented underclassmen, but getting a true veteran leader like Watson could be a real quick difference maker for a defense in desperate need of exactly that.