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Maryland football spring notebook: part two

The Terps are three weeks through spring ball with six practices remaining.

Photo Courtesy of Taylor McLaughlin/Maryland Athletics

With Saturday’s scrimmage in the books, Maryland football has concluded its ninth of 15 allowed spring practices.

Head coach Michael Locksley’s squad hit “The Shell” for the intrasquad competition. Though the scrimmage was closed to both media and fans and no official score was taken, reviews seemed to be positive.

The team’s Instagram story on Saturday featured short rushing touchdowns from sophomore Colby McDonald, redshirt freshman Roman Hemby and senior Challen Faamatau, along with a red-zone passing touchdown from redshirt junior Taulia Tagovailoa to sophomore tight end CJ Dipree. A couple respective clips of freshmen early-enrollee linebackers Jaishawn Barham and Caleb Wheatland blowing up plays before the line of scrimmage also were posted to the account’s story.

Perhaps the most important part of Saturday’s scrimmage is that there were no “major injuries or anything of substance” that damaged Maryland’s health, per Locksley. The spring is key for developing all facets of the team, and a major injury is the last thing anyone wants to see happen.

Locksley said they got around 85-90 plays in for both teams, which, according to him, equates to about half of a full game.

Locksley was made available to the media via a Zoom call Saturday afternoon, while select players spoke to media following last Tuesday’s practice, in which the opening portion was open to the media.

With the Red-White Spring Game set for April 30, let’s dive into some takeaways from the recent chunks of the Maryland’s spring.

Florida transfer Jacob Copeland is already embracing the culture of Maryland football

Why would Copeland go somewhere else to be “the guy” when he could have came to Maryland to be “with the guys”? This is the sentiment that Copeland shared Tuesday. Playing alongside star wideouts and NFL prospects in senior Dontay Demus Jr. and junior Rakim Jarrett is something that drew Copeland to College Park. Copeland loved that Maryland, led by Tagovailoa, threw the ball a lot, and it didn’t hurt that he had a strong relationship with Locksley, who recruited him hard as a high school recruit when he was at Alabama.

Even after committing to Florida, Copeland said he stayed in touch with Locksley, comparing their relationship to a “father-son” dynamic. Copeland also has a “smooth” relationship with new Maryland wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer, who also recruited him out of high school; Brewer was North Carolina’s co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach from 2012-17. Copeland likes how Brewer treats everyone like a grown man, letting his players learn from his mistakes. Copeland was also seen on the team’s Instagram story catching about a 30-yard pass from Tagovailoa. Florida’s leading wide receiver from last season has a ton of buzz surrounding him in College Park.

“You got three threats out here, so how you going to do this?” said Copeland of going against opposing defenses. “So that’s how I looked at it, and I felt that was a good thing coming in with [Rakim], Demus and the rest of the receivers.”

“Getting him to come here, I think him understanding the type of system we have on our offense, and how we’ve been able to play with the multiple receivers where they all contribute to each other’s success,” Locksley said of Copeland. “His history of this offense, and knowing that how we’ve used receivers in it and the success that receivers had from Stefon Diggs, D.J. Moore here at Maryland to the Jaylen Waddle’s and Devonta Smith’s and Jerry Jeudy’s there at Alabama, Henry Ruggs. He’s got a pretty good understanding.”

Continuity on offensive line from 2021 to 2022 is meaningful

Maryland’s starting offensive line from December’s Pinstripe Bowl victory consisted of Jaelyn Duncan, Mason Lunsford, Spencer Anderson, Johari Branch and Delmar Glaze. All five players returned to offensive line coach Brian Braswell’s unit for the 2022 season, and those guys were all seen playing together in Saturday’s scrimmage in the athletic department’s photo gallery. They lined up as following: Duncan at left tackle, Lunsford at left guard, Branch at center, Glaze at right guard and Anderson at right tackle.

Duncan and Anderson are both redshirt seniors, Lunsford is a redshirt junior, Branch is a senior and Glaze is a redshirt sophomore. Sophomore Aric Harris, who started nine games at center in 2021, and redshirt senior Amelio Moran, who appeared in all 13 games last season, also seem to be poised for playing time this season.

Another advantage to having an experienced offensive line is limiting mistakes and penalties. Maryland committed the second-most penalties in the Big Ten last season with many of those coming as false starts from the offensive line that backed up the offense and put Tagovailoa in a difficult position. With more reps under their belt, this group should have the discipline to limit untimely errors.

The trenches are vital to succeeding in the Big Ten, and there seems to be promise on that front this spring.

“It’s good, it’s good,” Anderson said of the continuity. “It’s always good when you can have veterans come back instead of having to develop young guys who haven’t really had that many starts or got as much quality playing time.”

“Definitely something that we’re excited about, not having to replace a bunch of people up front this year,” Locksley said. “What we’ve got to do is develop the depth that’s gonna be necessary. So having a veteran group of five, six guys that have all played a lot of football for us up front, that experience in our system should help us be able to take that next step.”

The young running backs have impressed as Maryland looks to create a more balanced offense

When you have a quarterback with the arm strength and capabilities of Tagovailoa, and a wide receiver room consisting of NFL prospects everywhere, there is no doubt your offensive game plan will consist of more passing than running the ball.

However, as Maryland’s running back room is young and inexperience, they will play an important role in how good this offense can really be. Defenses will certainly game plan to shut down Tagovailoa and load up on his top weapons, but if the Terps can produce in the run game, it will open up Tagovailoa’s game and the entire offense.

“For us, it’s about balance,” Locksley said. “If people are going to do things to take away the ability to throw the ball, we’ve got to be able to run it efficiently, which is something we’re really making a point of emphasis this spring is to get the complimentary run game.”

Mryland’s running back group is perhaps its most unproven position group on the team. The four backs on the roster had a combined 148 carries last season. Three of those running backs — Colby McDonald, Antwain Littleton and Roman Hemby — were part of the class of 2021. McDonald played in eight games last year while Littleton and Hemby appeared in two and three, respectively. While any one of them could become a star this season behind an improved offensive line, there are certainly question marks surrounding the running back room.

“Seeing Antwain Littleton and Roman Hemby as well as Colby McDonald, those guys have really continued to show their worth to us in the run game and did some nice things [today],” Locksley said.

The Terps will likely take a running back by committee approach to start the season and if someone emerges, they will get the bulk of the carries as the year wanes on.

“These young running backs continue to show us that they’re talented enough,” Locksley said.