The Maryland football position preview series continues with a look at the running back position. The Terps will need to replace their premier back from 2020 in Jake Funk who is now in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams.
While there may be inexperience on the depth chart at this position, head coach Mike Locksley is hoping some of the returners and new talent can break through and produce in the run game.
There is depth at the running back position with capable backs who can make plays on the ground, catch passes and operate as blockers. While some running backs have established themselves more than others throughout the offseason, there is no sure-fire starter as of now. It is likely Maryland will take a running back by committee approach, especially to start the season.
Maryland’s 2021 running back depth
|10 Att, 26 Net, 2.6 Avg, 0 TD
|19 Att, 61 Net, 3.2 Avg, 0 TD
|19 Att, 86 Net, 4.5 Avg, 0 TD
Who to expect to see carrying the load
At the Big Ten media day in Indianapolis, Locksley was asked who he expected to pick up the load at the running back position now that Funk is gone.
“It starts with Tayon Fleet-Davis,” Locksley said. “Fleet is one of those guys that is a Swiss army knife.”
Fleet-Davis has the most experience in the backfield as a redshirt senior. Last season he only played one game and rushed for 26 yards on 10 attempts. In his junior season in 2019, the Oxon Hill, Maryland native appeared in 10 games and was third on the team in rushing yards with 265.
Maryland’s offensive staff expects Fleet-Davis to be a versatile back that can serve multiple functions. Locksley noted that he has the ability to pass catch, pass-protect on third downs, help in short-yardage situations and be a playmaker on first and second downs.
Two other guys Maryland will rely on in the backfield is the sophomore duo of Isaiah Jacobs and Peny Boone. Both backs saw time in the shortened 2020 season. Both Boone and Jacobs had 19 carries last season and rushed for 86 and 61 yards, respectively.
Locksley also mentioned freshman Roman Hemby as a talented back who will be in the mix. Hemby recorded over 1,500 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns over two seasons at John Carroll High School.
“I expect him to have a big year for us,” Locksley said about Hemby.
If anything is clear from Maryland’s running back situation it’s that it will be a group effort and fans should not expect to see the Terps relying too much on one guy.
How the run game can open up the rest of the offense
The expectations for Maryland’s offense are sky-high entering the 2021 season. The quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends are mostly established with the season one month away.
There are still question marks surrounding the offensive line, but Locksley said he thinks that unit has improved the most on the offensive side of the ball throughout the offseason. However, no room has more question marks offensively than the running backs room. While there certainly is potential, the inexperience and lack of established backs put an uncertain feel in the backfield.
As discussed in the quarterback preview, the Terps’ offense will rely on the passing game more than any other facet. But if the running game is able to get going, it will alleviate pressure from Taulia and make it easier for Maryland’s elite playmakers to operate in the middle of the field.
The run game often depends on the effectiveness of the offensive line’s ability to get out and block. As mentioned, Locksley believes the offensive line has improved, meaning there should be more opportunities for guys like Fleet-Davis, Jacobs and Boone to make plays out of the backfield, either as pass catchers or runners.
Maryland’s offensive success won't necessarily come down to the run game, but if the Terps backs can become explosive playmakers, or at least be serviceable while taking care of the ball, this Maryland offense will be quite the challenge for opposing defensives.