Starting Maryland cornerback Jeremiah Johnson will be out seven to eight weeks with a fractured left toe, coach Randy Edsall said Sunday.
The injury is a blow to the Terps because of Johnson’s experience, but it comes at a position – the secondary – which is perhaps the team’s deepest.
Johnson, a redshirt junior who started all 12 games last season and led the team in pass breakups, sustained the injury in Maryland’s opening-week victory over Florida International.
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He limped off during that game and was on the sideline in a walking boot and warmup clothes during Saturday’s 47-10 victory over Old Dominion.
Johnson, who attended Suitland High School in Prince George’s County, was examined by a specialist last week. He will not require surgery, Edsall said.
Johnson’s absence means more playing time for transfer Isaac Goins and freshman Will Likely.
“We have a tremendous amount of confidence in Isaac,” Edsall said Sunday. “He knows what his role was, and his role got expanded. He’s an older guy, a more mature guy and we expect him to continue to play well.”
Likely had 11 tackles on Saturday in his first college start and was awarded the defensive game ball. Likely, who is from an area of south-central Florida nicknamed “The Muck,” is seen by coaches as one of the most valuable members of his recruiting class – a player with the confidence and skill to make an immediate impact.
During the preseason, Edsall said of Likely, who is 5-feet-7, 175 pounds: "He's got as much football savvy that I've been around as a freshman — maybe ever. If we told him he had to guard a 6-10 guy, he'd find a way to guard him."
“I was just ready to go out and make something happen,” Likely said of Saturday’s performance, which included a 43-yard kickoff return and a 27-yard punt return.
“J.J. (Johnson) is like one of the leaders on the team,” Likely said. “Because he’s out, he told us we have to step up.”
Tailback Brandon Ross, who had a career best 149 yards, got the game ball on the offense.
The defensive backfield is anchored by fifth-year senior Dexter McDougle. Goins is also experienced, having played at Contra Costa College and then appearing in nine games for the Terps last season. Goins also started against Old Dominion as the Terps played six defensive backs.
“You’re not taking a back seat when it comes to Isaac,” Terps safety Sean Davis said. “And that goes for pretty all much those (secondary) backups. We’re able to have that trust factor. Will (Likely) is a baller. I like having a guy like that with a quick burst.”
Goins and Davis both had interceptions on Saturday, as did linebacker Yannick Ngakoue.
Old Dominion employed a spread offense. West Virginia, which is Maryland’s opponent on Sept. 21 at M&T Bank Stadium, also plays a spread. The Terps (2-0) next face Connecticut (0-1) – the team Edsall coached for 12 seasons before arriving at Maryland in 2011.
The Terps already have as many interceptions – four – as they did all of last season.
“It’s pressure by the front seven,” Edsall said. (The) quarterback has to throw the ball a little too soon. Or you just have great individual plays.”