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5 players to watch at Maryland's annual Red-White game

The first 14 spring practices for the Maryland football team have gone by mostly without incident.

With the exception of rising sophomore wide receiver Tahj Capehart, who tore his ACL, there have been no significant injuries.

Even without quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill, out while rehabbing their own ACL injuries, the offense brought in by new coordinator Matt Canada has highlighted the depth at running back and the promise of some of the team’s young offensive linemen.

As the Terps conclude spring practice Saturday at Maryland Stadium with its final practice — the annual Red-White game — third-year coach DJ Durkin sees progress as his team tries to put a 4-8 season in the past.

“I like the approach the guys have taken, I really like the feeling and culture of our team right now,” Durkin said before practice Thursday. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do, there’s a lot of guys that have got to keep working throughout the summer.”

While spring football games at Maryland are typically low-key affairs, Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage should give the fans who show up a chance to look at several new players and others who might have prominent roles in 2018.

Here are five worth watching:

Tre Watson

One of three transfers, along with former Florida State cornerback Marcus Lewis and Auburn defensive end Byron Cowart, who could have a major impact on improving Maryland's defense.

Watson, who played his first three years at Illinois, finished fifth in the Big Ten in tackles with 102 as a sophomore, and was second in league play that season with 93 tackles in nine games.

Watson also appears to be faster moving laterally than former inside linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. and in tandem with junior Isaiah Davis could help the Terps get off the field more consistently.

Asked Thursday what he has done well in the spring, Watson said, “Just understanding the system, knowing what my reads are, knowing where I fit in the defense, just trying to be a contributor.”

Rayshad Lewis

Transferring from Utah State after a productive freshman year, then sitting out last season, Lewis has split the spring practices between wide receiver and cornerback.

While there’s a possibility of the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Lewis playing both ways, it seems more likely that Durkin will decide where the son of Ravens legend Ray Lewis can help Maryland the most.

As a freshman at Utah State, the younger Lewis caught 40 passes for 476 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed 10 times for 110 yards and one touchdown, a 59-yarder against Nevada.

Though he has not played cornerback since high school in Orlando, the younger Lewis has “natural ability,” Durkin said. “Even like Day 1, he’s just got a feel for things. He understands football pretty well.”

Deon Jones

Despite coming in early and ranking only behind running back Anthony McFarland in the 2017 recruiting class, Jones sat out as a freshman while recovering from a knee injury suffered in high school.

Jones, who played his first three years at Archbishop Carroll in Washington before finishing at Potomac High, gives the Terps some size (6-1, 195-pounds) at cornerback.

With the departure of JC Jackson, who decided to turn pro after his redshirt junior year, Jones will likely contend for playing time in a rotation that also includes another newcomer, Florida State transfer Marcus Lewis.

Marcus Minor

One of three true freshman offensive linemen to play last season, and the only one to start a game, the 6-foot-4, 294-pound Minor showed his potential as the season went on.

In an expanded role against Michigan when injuries piled up, Minor held his own against all-Big Ten defensive tackle Rashan Gary. Minor also did well in his lone start, on the road at Michigan State.

With redshirt senior Damian Prince sitting out the spring with a sprained knee, Minor has been getting a lot of reps at right tackle and could be a valuable insurance policy if Prince struggles to stay healthy next fall.

Byron Cowart

Once considered among the nation’s top recruits coming out of high school in Florida, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Cowart wants show that his struggles the past two years at Auburn were more fit than failure.

One of several experienced players to join a beleaguered Maryland defense that sacked opposing quarterbacks just 16 times last season, Cowart’s productivity is a key for the 2018 season.

Cowart should be able to take some of the pressure, as well as doubleteams, away from redshirt senior Jesse Aniebonam, who returns after breaking his ankle in the season-opening win at Texas.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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