Key battle shaping up at safety for Terps

When Sean Davis watches film, the freshman safety sees two versions of himself. There’s the real-life Davis, the speedster executing Maryland’s scheme in the secondary. Then the film quick-cuts, flashing to the player Davis wants to become. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, whose NFL stops include the Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys, splices together the footage of his professional safeties with that of his current Terrapins, so they can compare and adjust side by side.

The Texans currently run the 3-4 system Stewart employs, so their defense frequently appears inside the Gossett Team House film room. “That way,” Stewart said, rattling off names of established NFL defensive backs, “they can figure out if they need to be wider, if their play entry needs to be more inside. That’s how I do it, and I think that’s helped.”

Before Davis can even begin dreaming of the next level, however, he must handle an intense battle evolving within Maryland’s secondary. Both Davis and A.J. Hendy are competing for the starting safety spot opposite Anthony Nixon, and both are bracing for the long haul.

“That’s been real good competition,” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “Both of them have had their moments this spring. That’s not something that’s going to be decided until fall camp’s over, I’m sure. But the good thing is, both of them have skills and abilities where both can help us. Now it’s a matter of both made improvements, so it’s about how they compete, what they do over the summer when we get back here in August and probably won’t be definitive until next week.”

Neither option has much starting experience. Senior Eric Franklin started 11 of 12 games at one safety spot, while the other alternated between Davis (first two games), Matt Robinson (four games) and Nixon (six games). Davis appeared in all 12 games and finished with 13 tackles. Hendy saw action in just eight.

Each brings a particular strength to the competition, too. Hendy is the more analytical defensive back, a quicker processor better at shading off routes and remaining disciplined with the call. Davis might be more explosive and imposing physical force, boasting the quickness demonstrated during Tuesday’s practice, when he made a quick read off a tipped pass and made a shoe-string interception of quarterback C.J. Brown.

“Oh it’s good,” Davis said of the competition. “I love it. Coming out here every day, competing hard, and may the best man win.”

After losing senior playmakers along the front seven like Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Darin Drakeford, Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenneth Tate, one might expect the defensive line and linebacking corps to be a serious question mark entering the summer. But according to Stewart, that title falls onto the competition between Hendy and Davis.

“I think that’s a big question,” he said. “They bring different skillsets, so you want to make sure that, defensively, we’re doing what we can to utilize the skillset of the starter.

“It’s a great ongoing battle. It’s good to have. Both are doing the best they can to do the best. Whoever’s the starter, I know he’s ready to go. Whoever’s the backup, I know he’ll be ready to go.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · April 10, 2013