ORONO — If there is one thing the University of Maine’s defense doesn’t lack, it’s confidence.

Faced with filling the holes left in the middle of the defense by the graduation of linemen Pat Ricard and Darius Greene and linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, the Black Bears give a collective shrug.

“Our coaches do a great job of recruiting,” said senior linebacker Spencer Carey of Fairfield and Lawrence High. “It’s like Coach (Joe Harasymiak) said the other day, Pat and all of them were freshmen one day and they had to fill in some spots.”

One area that Harasymiak, in his second year as the Black Bears head coach, doesn’t lose sleep over is the secondary, especially the cornerbacks.

In senior Najee Goode and sophomore Manny Patterson, the Black Bears have two shutdown cornerbacks. Goode, from Philadelphia, is a three-year starter and received first-team all-Colonial Athletic Association preseason honors this year. Patterson, from Baltimore, stepped in as a freshman last year and led the team with 10 pass break-ups.

“We won’t see anyone better all year, I’ll tell you that,” said redshirt junior quarterback Drew Belcher, who throws against Goode and Patterson every day in practice. “They’re two of the best corners in the league, for sure, and two of the best we’ll see all year. They make our receivers much better. It definitely helps our offense a whole lot.

“Najee is smart, very experienced. He’s not going to tip his hand before the ball. He’s going to give you a lot of looks. You can tell he watches a lot of film. He knows what he’s doing. Same with Manny. He played as a true freshman and now is more experienced. Physically, Manny’s one of the most gifted guys I’ve ever seen, fast, explosive.”

The two, both listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, lived together this summer in Orono, working out, watching film and talking. “Najee is my man, he’s my brother,” said Patterson. “We talked about everything.”

Especially the upcoming season. Maine, which finished 6-5 (5-3 in the CAA) last year, has a daunting first five games this year: at rival New Hampshire (which eliminated the Black Bears from the playoffs in last year’s season finale) on Aug. 31; Bryant University at home on Sept. 9; at defending national champion James Madison on Sept. 23; at Central Florida (an FBS school) on Sept. 30; at Villanova on Nov. 7.

“We look at ourselves as leaders on this defense,” said Goode. “And we have to play a huge role and do our job every play. If we do our job 77 reps out of 77 reps, we have a chance to win. That’s the thing we talk about every day. All of us, as a group, we push each other.”

Patterson said that the confidence the coaches showed in him last year has certainly helped him.

“Confidence is the key,” he said. “As long as you have confidence, you can go out there and ball.”

Goode had 40 tackles, two interceptions, seven pass break-ups and perhaps Maine’s signature play on defense last year when he forced a fumble, recovered it and raced 74 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give Maine a 21-14 lead over highly favored Connecticut in the season opener. The Huskies would win 24-21 on a last-second field goal.

Patterson finished last year with 23 tackles and the 10 pass break-ups.

But they’re only part of a secondary that needs to play better. Darrius Hart (47 tackles, three interceptions) and DeAndre Scott (44 tackles, one interception) lead a safety group that has six returning players. Tayvon Hall is back as the nickel corner.

“I think our secondary, as a whole, has a chance to be a unit that really steps up,” said Harasymiak. “It should be a good group.”

It needs to be. Maine’s pass defense showed flashes last year, but too often broke down and allowed big plays. While the Black Bears led the CAA in allowing only 51.9 percent of opposing passes to be completed, overall the pass defense was ranked 11th in the 12-team CAA, allowing 223.0 yards per game.

That was all a big drop from 2015, when Maine allowed 206.0 yards passing per game (ninth in the CAA) and an even bigger drop from 2014 when Maine ranked third in pass defense, allowing just 172.2 yards per game.

Harasymiak said everything starts with the cornerbacks.

“We recruited Najee when I was the DB coach and he’s really upped his game, he will be a great player for us,” he said. “And I think Manny is special. People don’t talk about him a lot because – one, he’s next to Najee and, two – he doesn’t get the ball thrown to him a lot. But I think he can be a really special player.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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