Wednesday marked the first day of Maryland football training camp, where all the players and coaches returned from summer recess and hit the turf in preparation for the season opener on Sept. 3 against Buffalo.
Head coach Mike Locksley, offensive coordinator Dan Enos, defensive coordinator Brian Williams and various players spoke to the media to share their excitement for the upcoming season.
One thing was clear: this iteration of Maryland football has a ton of enthusiasm surrounding it and the expectations in College Park are as high as they've been in quite some time.
“I kind of call it Christmas in August, where I get to open up all the new toys that we’ve recruited over the last six months,” Locksley said. “You can just feel the excitement that our players have for this season.”
Let’s get to some takeaways from media day.
Continuity on offense breeds confidence for the Terps
From the playmakers to the offensive line to the coaches to the quarterback himself, the feeling is Maryland’s 2022 offense is going to be electric. Coming off a record-breaking season for quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the entire Maryland offense, the expectation is this group takes an even greater step forward.
The optimism is rooted in the fact that almost everyone that made the Terps offense so special last season returned to College Park. That, of course, starts with Tagovailoa, but it’s much more than just the man under center. Both players and coaches talked about the offensive continuity among the group.
Tagovailoa’s top two weapons in receivers Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus Jr. return to the fold, with Demus making a fast recovery from a torn ACL. He is expected to be back for week one.
All five of Maryland’s starting offensive lineman are returning with steady depth at the position. Among both Locksley and Enos, and various players, the position group that everyone keeps talking about is the offensive line, with Locksley calling it the “most improved unit” on the team.
And for the second consecutive season, Tagovailoa has his play-caller in Enos back with him. The familiarity among the entire offense should bode well for a unit that can put up monster numbers.
“Having continuity on our roster, with our coaching staff is another real key to this excitement that I have,” Locksley said.
Injury returnees will look to bounce back and make an impact
After a 2021 season that was plagued with injuries to key contributors, many of those who had their seasons cut short expect to be back in time for Maryland’s first game against Buffalo on Sept. 3. Most notably, Locksley expects wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. to fully recover from his knee injury — suffered against Iowa on Oct. 1, 2021 — in time for the season opener, reiterating a similar statement he made in Indianapolis at Big Ten Football Media Day.
“He’s ahead of schedule, not necessarily on track, and our thought is we will see him in the first game,” Locksley said. “He’s been at all of the offseason workouts. He continues to be one of the tremendous leaders that we have in our program... having him back has been just great for our program and great for our offense.”
“I feel like I’m coming back for a bigger purpose than myself,” Demus added, explaining his motivation to return to the Terps this season. “I’m playing for my brothers, my family. There’s people counting on me I don’t even know, to be honest.”
Demus projects to be one of, if not the top option in Maryland’s prolific passing game, a unit that has received a lot of preseason buzz. However, he is not the only impact player returning from injury. Fellow wideout Jeshaun Jones is also expected to return by the start of the season. The defense — particularly the linebacker position — should be rejuvenated by the presence of a few playmakers that missed substantial time in 2021.
“We’re going into this offseason, this season I should say, relatively healthy. And we want to stay that way,” defensive coordinator Brian Williams said as he knocked on the wooden podium in front of him for good luck. “We get guys like Fa’Najae Gotay back, Durell Nchami, Deonte Banks, guys that we lost last year during the season that are very impactful players for us.”
Gotay and Nchami’s presences should provide some stability at linebacker, and Banks will need to fill in for defensive back Nick Cross after his departure to the NFL.
With last season in the rear view mirror, the Terps are looking to reach new heights in 2022
After finishing the 2021 season with a 7-6 record and the first bowl win in over a decade, expectations for Locksley and the Maryland football program have risen both externally and internally. While there is still plenty of work to be done, last season proved to both fans and to the team itself that progress is being made and that the potential is there to improve even further.
“I just want to show the world that we’re not the same Maryland we have been the past couple years,” redshirt sophomore tight end Corey Dyches said. “That energy from the fanbase, I want to bring it back. I want [Maryland] to be a winning culture and I think this is the year we’re going to do it.”
Redshirt senior defensive lineman Greg China-Rose echoed that sentiment. “I feel like last season was a breaking point, a tipping point,” he said. “That was a glimpse of what we be and I’m excited for this year. In the spring and the summer I saw what we’re going to be, I see us transforming into a different type of team.”
With the continuity present in multiple position rooms along with an influx of talent that promises to add a new dimension to the Terps’ game, Maryland has the pieces necessary to make a jump in year four under Locksley. He’ll look to maintain that upwards momentum in 2022.
“Going to a bowl game, what it does do is it just kind of shows that this is what happens when you have the right kinds of habits and behaviors,” Locksley said. “The thing I want to make sure that we all don’t misconstrue is that we can build on what we did last year, because we really can’t. We have to start over from scratch. Last year’s team is gone... when we line up today for our first practice it will be all about this team creating an identity and maybe using some of the experiences we gained from last year to help us take that next step this year.”