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Notebook from Maryland football’s two preseason scrimmages

The Terps kick off the regular season in under two weeks.

Mackenzie Miles/Maryland Terrapins

Only 13 days remain before Maryland football’s season opener against Buffalo at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium on Sept. 3. Since the start of fall camp on Aug. 3, the Terps have had two inter-squad scrimmages as they prepare for the start of the regular season.

The scrimmages were closed to the media, but head coach Mike Locksley spoke after both of them. Here are some takeaways and notes from the scrimmages.

Injuries and health update

Maryland has managed to avoid any major injuries in camp thus far, and most of the injury news has been positive rather than negative. Wide receivers Dontay Demus and Jeshaun Jones are still on track to start the season at full strength after suffering season-ending leg injuries a season ago.

“Guys like Dontay Demus, Jeshaun Jones took live reps, were tackled to the ground, so it was good to see those guys taking part in a live scrimmage and come out healthy and ready to go,” Locksley said following the team’s second scrimmage on Aug. 20.

On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt senior linebackers Fa’Najae Gotay and Durrell Nchami and redshirt junior defensive back Deonte Banks have all recovered from injuries that prematurely ended their 2021 seasons and look ready to put together a more complete campaign this fall.

“We have got some guys with experience... Fa’Najae Gotay’s coming back from injury,” Locksley said. “We’re gonna have a big year with Durell [Nchami], rushing the passer and setting the edge with his athleticism.

“Our DBs, with Deonte Banks back, and Jakorian Bennett as well as Tarheeb [Still] healthy, I’ve been really happy with those guys,” he added.

Special teams is a work in progress, but Chad Ryland has provided stability at kicker

Perhaps the biggest area of improvement Maryland needs heading into the 2022 season is a more consistent and reliant special teams unit. Last season, the group often gave up big plays on punt and kick returns or racked up penalties that put both the offense and defense in difficult situations.

Locksley has emphasized the importance of cleaning that up this season. In the first scrimmage, Locksley wasn't pleased with the special teams performance.

“We still have some work to do on our special teams, too many penalties, the execution of some of the techniques aren't where we need them to be, so we’ve got to get that stuff cleaned up, which I know we will,” Locksley said.

In the second scrimmage, Locksley was more satisfied with how the special teams performed, and following the scrimmage he once again emphasized the importance of the unit.

“I saw us make strides in the return game,” Locksley said. “We are making the commitment to play our best players on these teams. ... If we want to make the next step, we’ve got to be able to play great special teams and I think our team is embracing that, so I'm excited to continue to see us progress.”

The bright spot in the special teams unit has been transfer kicker Chad Ryland, who impressed in both scrimmages. Ryland, according to Locksley, connected on a 58-yard field goal in the second scrimmage.

“This guy is one of the best kickers in the country,” Locksley said. “Probably the best transfer portal pickup we were able to get this year because of his ability to score the ball for us.”

On a team laden with experience, youngsters will need to step up in certain spots

The Terps return key, experienced contributors at many positions this season. Regardless, some of Maryland’s younger players will need to be ready in case they are called upon.

“Definitely happy with the way some of these guys have come along and progressed,” Locksley said. “You’ll see us play a lot of players early and continue to try and develop them.”

At running back, select freshmen and sophomores will get the majority of the opportunities when the season starts since senior Challen Faamatau went down with an injury in the spring game. Redshirt freshmen Antwain Littleton II and Roman Hemby, sophomore Colby McDonald and freshman Ramon Brown have shared first-team snaps while the team looks for one to separate from the pack.

“It’s a young group and I think [they] have shown the ability. They’re all explosive guys that have the ability to make big plays,” Locksley said of the team’s running backs. “We feel like we’ve got four guys that really play effective football for us. The concern is, they’re young and their ability to take care of the protection piece of it, protecting the football when the ball is in their hand. I think any of the four are all capable of being explosive players for us.”

The Terps will also rely on a pair of freshmen to contribute immediately at the linebacker position. Jaishawn Barham and Caleb Wheatland — both of whom were early enrollees in the spring — are poised to start the season opener against Buffalo.

“I expect those guys to play quite a bit,” Locksley said about the pair. “[They] got here early so they’re a little more further along than what most true freshmen will be.”

Locksley also noted that freshman wide receiver Octavian Smith has been getting scrimmage action on kick returns.

Transfer infusion has been key to all three sides of the ball

As Locksley has repeated this offseason, the transfer portal “giveth and taketh away.”

Despite their first bowl win in 11 seasons, the Terps were hit hard on the wrong side of the transfer portal. Maryland lost promising players like edge rusher Demeioun Robinson (Penn State), defensive lineman Darrell Jackson (Miami) and linebackers Terrence Lewis (UCF) and Branden Jennings (UCF), among others.

While several of Maryland’s departures are considered key losses to the program, Locksley feels confident in the players he’s been able to recoup. It starts with Ryland — who Locksley called his best transfer portal get of the offseason — but there will be plenty of other impactful names as well.

“I singled out Chad, obviously, because of the talent there,” Locksley said. “But that’s not to diminish the impact that a guy like VD — Vandarius [Cowan] — has had with his transfer in. Quashon Fuller coming in. A ton of guys have come in and really, as I said, been able to add value to our offense, defense and special teams.”

Cowan comes to College Park after spending the last four seasons at West Virginia. He was fortunate to be with the Terps during the spring, and Locksley praised his pass rush ability Saturday. Originally a class of 2017 recruit, Cowan will be one of the key veterans at the linebacker position for the Terps.

Fuller, a junior defensive lineman, comes from Florida State after announcing his commitment to Maryland this past May. He is someone that Locksley describes as “one of those tweeners,” noting his ability to be effective against both the run and the pass.

Locksley would also be remiss not to mention wide receiver Jacob Copeland. As Florida’s leading wideout in 2021, plenty has been made of the dynamic player that Copeland could be in an electric receiving core that includes stars Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus. Copeland adds an element to Maryland’s offense that will make opposing defenses truly pick their poison.

The transfers should be vital to Maryland’s success in all three facets of the game and have a chance to show that starting in 13 days against Buffalo.