COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland football team's offense attempted a reverse during practice Friday.
Most of the defense flowed in the wrong direction, so wide receiver Taivon Jacobs had only one defender between him and the final 15 yards to the end zone.
But that defender, senior cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, was not fooled by the reverse and came up to stop Jacobs for about a 2-yard loss.
Johnson missed most of last year with a toe injury. He hurt his hamstring once he returned, an injury he aggravated during both the winter and the spring. But Johnson feels good now — as good as he has since leading up to last season, he said — and he is back to making plays like the one he made Friday.
“I thought he was a little bit rusty as we first got started," Terps coach Randy Edsall said. "You could start to see him get a little more comfortable and more confident. When you come off the toe and you come off the hamstring, that’s probably natural. ... I like the progress that he’s making, and he’s just going to continue to get better, and he hasn’t had any ill effects with the toe or with the hamstring, which is good.”
Johnson had 43 tackles and a team-high eight passes defended while starting every game in 2012.
He played in just two games last year because of injury. But when healthy, he is an experienced, proven player whose leadership and intelligence Edsall and the Terps’ coaching staff value.
Johnson was listed as a backup to Alvin Hill heading into preseason practice. But Edsall said that was simply because Johnson was coming off of an injury.
"It’s great that we have that competition,” Edsall said. “But I’m looking forward to him being out there because, to me, he’s another coach on the field. He’s one of these guys that understands what we’re doing. He’s a leader for us. He’s a vocal guy. The guys listen to him. It’s important for us to have him on the field, not only because of his playing ability, but the other things that he brings to the table from a leadership, experience and mentality [standpoint] that you want out there.”
Like Edsall, Johnson said he is still rusty after missing most of last season as well as most of the spring, and he got beat for a long touchdown by wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo during practice Saturday.
But he had the big play on the reverse Friday and nearly intercepted a pass from quarterback C.J. Brown during the two-minute-drill portion of practice Saturday.
"The summer was big for me,” Johnson said. “During the summer, I was able to get out in 7-on-7s, things we did as far as team-oriented things, things we put together ourselves, and kind of get some of that rust off. … I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little rusty, but everyday I’m getting better and better.”