On Maryland football media day back in early August, Coach Randy Edsall idled near midfield at Byrd Stadium, twirling a football between his fingers. Some Terrapins players were standing on glistening metal bleachers, posing for pictures and sweating straight through their red game-day uniforms. Others milled about, passing the time by cracking jokes or playing catch.
“Defensive backs,” someone shouted. The safeties and cornerbacks clumped together, then arranged themselves in a single-file march toward the camera. Edsall looked as the group walked past, jerseys tucked tight and socks to the shin, and spotted one player with hair like a Chia Pet, static-clinging to the sun.
“What’d you do, stick your hand in the electrical socket again,” Edsall asked Sean Davis.
Davis laughed. His teammates laughed harder. One of Maryland’s most gregarious and sociable players, Davis approached football last season like children might face wall outlets. The freshman flew toward passes on hunches, operating mostly on instinct. He would eventually learn better, growing into a greater technician and more risk-averse safety. But when things line up just right, when Davis’s instant impulses align with his mental training, the results can be electrifying.
For this, and other reasons, too, Edsall named Davis the starting safety over A.J. Hendy last week, a move he elaborated upon Tuesday afternoon. It was close, Edsall said, one of the closest battles he’s ever seen as a coach. Davis, who opened last season as a true freshman starter before coming off the bench for 10 straight games, showed more consistency during the team’s open scrimmage earlier this month. Davis only made 13 tackles last season and recovered one fumble, but with Matt Robinson moving to linebacker and Eric Franklin graduated, Davis must continue to impress.
Except Edsall still considers Hendy, a junior who closed the season with eight appearances after missing the first four with injury, a starter. He will appear on special teams, and his studious personality allows Maryland to rotate him between free and strong safety on special packages. In 2011, Hendy made 30 tackles, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass as a freshman. Last season, he recorded just four total tackles, hampered for weeks by an ankle injury. He expects bigger things of himself. The team does too.
Edsall could see the disappointment in Hendy’s eyes when he broke the news. “I’d expect him to be disappointed,” Edsall said, but it was the reaction that surprised him. Hendy has practiced hard in a backup role, working like he’s the starter.
“As a coach, not that you’re telling Sean he’s on a short leash, but if guys don’t perform, you know you have a guy there who you feel comfortable with coming in and being a starter,” Edsall said. “He knows with one play he could be in there. Plus he’s going to be a contributor on special teams for us. He’s going to play a big part in what we’re going to do. He’s got the mind-set that he’s going to be ready to go. I’m really proud of him in terms of how he’s handled that.”