(Continuing a series of spring Q&As with Maryland's position coaches. Up today: Defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Don Brown)
PS: Let's start with the corners, since those are your guys. Cam Chism is the one guy is the most known quantity.
DB: And he's played that way this spring. I think he's had a solid spring. I'm really happy with him, very solid. Had an outstanding day on Tuesday. Trenton Hughes has played very solid. We still have some work to do there before he's where I want him to be and I know where he wants to be. But I have very high expectations for him.
Dexter McDougle has had a very solid spring. You've got to kind of curb your expectations at times for him because I have such high expectations for him and you forget he's never been through spring practice before. He's kind of been fighting a hip flexor, but I've admired his toughness. He hasn't begged off. He's stayed out there and competed and he's not 100 percent.
Avery Graham has gone from being a nonfactor in the fall, kind of completely lost, to finding his way. He's extremely explosive. He's a very physical guy, highly competitive, and he's learning. He's going about his business completely different, and he's had some really good moments in camp.
Michael Carter would be the fifth guy right now, because Michael's been out. Unfortunately for Mike, he got banged up and missed the second scrimmage and has continued to miss practice. I like the way he had prepared through winter conditioning and was practicing at a much higher level than a year ago at this time. So, I'm kind of happy where he is right now. Then we've got three roster guys that have a lot of work to do.
PS: Chism got a lot more work last year than was initially anticipated, and I'm sure there were some lumps in there. But is he better off for that this year having gone through all that stuff?
DB: The negative for him, and obviously you can't get it back, but him playing as a freshman on all those special teams was obviously a necessity, but at the same time it ate up a year of eligibility would be the best way to put it. But really, he came in last year with one defensive snap from the previous year. The next thing you know, you look back on his journey, which was difficult at times, he's the fourth-leading tackler amongst DBs in the ACC. And he had four interceptions. So when you think about that, that's pretty damn good. So he's come out the other end much stronger mentally. I can coach him hard and he doesn't flinch. That's kind of a good thing. Relationship-wise, I feel very, very good about where he's at and how we interact.
PS: With Hughes, I know he got in the Virginia Tech game ---
DB: Yeah, he played some minutes. Valuable minutes last year. Probably should have played him more as I look back on it. But at that point, you're just trying to fight your tail off to win as many games as you can. But he's certainly much more prepared right now. The game is slowing down. He's functioning in the game now and things aren't fast. When I watch the tape, I go through his reads and what he should be seeing and we're on the same last year. Whereas last year, there was a good chunk of that and then there were some that were 'Whoa,' that were completely off the charts where he obviously didn't have a sound understanding of what we were trying to do or just things were going so fast, he'd have that momentary lapse. Those are much less. I'm really harping on him now to do all the little things so he can compete at a high level.
PS: How close were you to using McDougle last year?
DB: Very close. Very close. It was early on. It was right after Nolan [Carroll's] injury, and he had started o come on and get in the mix. But I had confidence in Trenton. I had confidence in Richard Taylor. I was delaying the process. If I think back on it now, I should have thrown him into the mix with a young, growing group. But in the long term, it's still best for him that he still has four years of eligibility.
PS: I know you reference Graham earlier. Is this a bit of a surprise in some ways?
DB: For me?
DB: Yeah. I was not discouraged about the person or the athlete, but sometimes when you're a true freshman you go through that adaptation phase where you're on a college campus, you're trying to function in the classroom. So many things are coming at you 100 miles an hour, your whole world fractures. I think to some respect, that kind of happened.
PS: Moving along to the other units, kind of touching on each of them. Safeties at this point it would seem Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez are the obvious guys.
DB: Tate, Perez and [Eric] Franklin are the three guys we're happy with. Travis Hawkins we moved there, but is a work in progress and made a huge play today. He's getting better all the time, going through the learning curve. He was a corner a year ago, and now he's a safety. So his learning is completely different. He's got responsibilities to get us lined up, he has responsibilities with a lot of checks. He's got to know where he fits in the run, he's got to know where he fits in the pressures, he's got to know where he fits in the pass. He's got a lot going. He's still going through the process of learning. I think the sky's the limit for him. He's had some really good moments this spring. My big piece for him is we have to really focus on him doing a great job being a great tackler.
PS: With the linebackers, all three starters are back. Are you happy with those three guys and what do you see beneath them at this point?
DB: There's a lot of guys. We're blessed. I think [Demetrius] Hartsfield has had a tremendous spring. [Alex] Wujciak, I have no history, but what I knew from last fall, he's running way better. He's very smart. He's tremendous in the running game. [Adrian] Moten is Moten. He's kind veteran with guile, knows what's going on, really sharp, all that stuff. [Darin] Drakeford's vastly improved. Avery Murray's been hurt a good chunk, so we're still putting him through the paces, but we feel good about him as well.
Ben Pooler's had a good spring, and we've kind of rotated him between Mike and Will. He's handled it mentally and played pretty good. Ryan Donohue is another guy who played as a freshman in teams and we like him. He got set back by an injury, an interesting and freakish injury [an infection], and I thought he had a pretty good day today. Then, of course, we have the three young bucks that are going to be good. And that would be [Lorne] Goree, who's got really quick twitch, Javarie [Johnson], who I think has settled down the last three or four practices. We've kind of minimized what he's trying to do. And [David] Mackall. Mackall has got a chance to maybe impact us a freshman.
PS: Mackall's at Sam?
PS: And Johnson ---
DB: Is at Will.
PS: And Goree?
DB: At Will.
PS: Is it tough to forecast where the defensive line is with all those guys out in some form or fashion, be it Isaiah Ross, be it Carl Russell, be it Masengo Kabongo?
DB: No, I think we have a good handle where we're at there. Justin Anderson has played extremely well as the Anchor, playing over the tight end. Joe Vellano has had a tremendous spring. He really has. I call him Joe Klecko, and he probably doesn't even know who the hell Joe Klecko is. I think he's had a really good spring.
A.J. Francis has been solid. He's been set back with a little bit of an ankle sprain.
We're really breaking in Maurice Hampton and De'Onte Arnett. Arnett's a bit of a struggle. Zach Kerr's been down for a little bit, but hopefully we'll get him back next week. Obum [Akunyili's] done a good job of getting in there and getting some reps at nose.
The end thing we feel a lot better about. Bradley Johnson moved to end and he's played fast and has a role. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but boy can he run. Marcus Whitfield will be a good player there as well. We've got [Derek] Drummond and [Drew] Gloster, who are in a nice deal. I thought Drew was going to be fine at Mike, and he really was. But this is clearly the best place for him. I think he's taken to it and is more physical than he was from Day One. His rush is good. He's just playing well. We feel good.
PS: For what you ask the Anchor to do, is Anderson the ideal the combination of speed and size for that spot, or can you still envision him slipping inside?
DB: Well, he's a couple bologna sandwiches away from being an inside guy. But he's athletic enough to play over the tight end. His pass rush has been good. He's a little bit taller, angular guy. We have to continue to work with him on his pass rush. But his run-stuffing ability is really solid.
PS: For the spring overview, you'd say Vellano has been the breakout guy as much as anyone else?
DB: I would say Vellano is our breakout guy, without question. I would also say McDougle. I though Trent would have a good spring, so I can't really say he's a breakout guy. Avery Graham is clearly a breakout guy. I've always thought Avery Murray's a good player, and he makes some really good plays. David Mackall's been a bit of a surprise. His pass rush ability is excellent, and his size, and he plays the game fast, so we have to find him --- and that'll be my job, to find him a nice role.
PS: Anything else on your mind?
DB: I think we've enhanced our overall team speed on defense. I think that's clear. We still have a lot of work to do. I looked out at our second defense, and we had eight freshmen or redshirt freshmen on it. And they're all good players. So that's a good thing. Our first group, I think is playing very solid. So life is good.