Maryland football played its final of two preseason intra-squad scrimmages Saturday, and head coach Mike Locksley addressed the media after both.
Here are some notes from the scrimmages, with Maryland’s season opener against Towson just two weeks away.
The offensive line is shaping up, but starters remain undecided
Maryland’s offensive line is a looming question mark heading into the 2023 season. After its well-documented losses from last year — four starters, to be exact — the starting unit will be almost entirely overhauled this fall.
“Not there yet,” Locksley said when asked whether the team has solidified a starting offensive line. “Still rotating different groups and different personnel. ... But our goal is by the end of this week to kind of have a good understanding of how we’ll play these guys across the board.”
Even though Delmar Glaze is the only holdover from last year’s starting group and is a shoo-in to start at tackle, the Terps brought in a few transfers with experience and, according to Locksley, that experience has meant a lesser learning curve than a usual group of newcomers. Corey Bullock, Gottlieb Ayedze and Mike Purcell are three offensive linemen that transferred in with at least three years of collegiate experience. While all three played against different levels of competition, their familiarity with different systems has made their transition smoother.
Bullock and Ayedze were featured with the first-team offense in April’s spring game and seem likely to start at tackle and guard, and Purcell, who didn’t enroll until the summer, has been in a competition with Aric Harris for the starting center job. Amelio Morán, Kevin Kalonji — another transfer — and Kyle Long are candidates to compete for the final starting guard position.
“Right now I think the biggest challenge we have is putting the best five on the field,” Locksley said. “And because of the versatility of these guys … what we’re trying to do is figure out the best five to get on the field.”
Regardless of who is on the field for the first snap, Maryland will need to establish depth along the offensive line. Locksley stated Saturday that he is looking to have “10 to 12 guys that can play winning football for [Maryland].”
Experience in the secondary has shone through
Unlike the offensive line, familiarity is not an issue for the secondary, which seems to be a strength for the Terps heading into the season. The unit took a major leap last year in defensive coordinator Brian Williams’ first year, a leap Locksley credits to the unit’s experience.
“I thought the experience probably played the biggest [role],” Locksley said. “But I also thought coach Williams and the defensive staff did a really good job of mixing the coverages with how they adjusted their front.”
While cornerbacks Deonte Banks and Jakorian Bennett were both selected in the NFL draft, starters Dante Trader Jr., Beau Brade and Tarheeb Still are returning with the experience Locksley yearns for.
“All three of those guys are high-performance, high-trust guys that are the type of leaders you want on your defense and on your team,” Locksley said.
Maryland’s play on the back end should look similar to last season’s, with the safety positions solidified by Trader Jr. and Brade, but how the coaching staff will align the cornerbacks around Still remains to be seen.
Still has primarily played as a slot corner while at Maryland, but with an outside cornerback position open alongside Cincinnati transfer Ja’Quan Sheppard, he may shift outside.
“In a perfect world, because he has been a guy that, you know, with the three-corner rotation we’ve used, he’s typically been in the slot,” Locksley said. “I think you’ll see him outside a little more as we try to figure out the best slot corner for us, whether it’s a nickel, a safety or a corner.”
Locksley mentioned three names after the first scrimmage when asked about the slot corner role: safety Glendon Miller and cornerbacks Gavin Gibson and Perry Fisher. While Locksley did admit the position is still up for grabs, a combination of these three seems likely, potentially with Miller being used to stop the run and Gibson or Fisher playing on passing downs.
No matter how the cornerbacks are arranged, the secondary should be a unit Williams and Locksley can rely on throughout the season.
New offensive coordinator, no problem
Maryland underwent a change at offensive coordinator with Josh Gattis replacing Dan Enos as the offense’s play-caller. That being said, Locksley has made it clear that the Terps’ offensive philosophy will not change, which does not come as surprise considering his extensive experience on that side of the ball.
“There hasn’t been a big learning curve because there hasn’t been a wholesale change of what we do. And philosophy-wise, philosophy hasn’t changed,” Locksley said. “I think what you’re seeing is that the offensive side of the ball is starting to get accustomed and used to the personality that Josh will add to the system.”
Locksley did note that there were some procedural kinks to work out after the first scrimmage but that all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — were tuned up the second time around. While Gattis’ addition may not create unfamiliarity, there are plenty of newcomers in addition to the aforementioned offensive line, and the quick development within the Terps’ offensive system is a promising sign for the team as its season opener nears. Sixth-year receiver Jeshaun Jones was pointed to by Locksley as a key leader among a wide receiver group featuring plenty of fresh faces.
“We’ve got a not necessarily just a young room, but an inexperienced room because even with guys like Kaden Prather and Tyrese Chambers coming in, they haven’t had experience in the system and I know [Jones has] really played an role of, kind of coach mentality with all those guys,” Locksley said.
Locksley also pointed to Kevin Sumlin, the team’s new tight ends coach and co-offensive coordinator, as a positive influence for getting his players up to speed quickly.
Special teams update
Special teams is often a revolving door that is utilized to develop the younger players. Naturally, there is a growth period that frequently manufactures mistakes, however, Locksley noticed improvement from the first scrimmage to the second.
“I thought a week ago, you know, we weren’t very sharp with our special teams substitutions and our execution of the special teams fundamentals,” Locksley said Saturday. “This week, I saw major improvement — guys being into the scrimmage, understanding substitutions. When somebody’s down, guys were ready to go.”
As far as kick and punt returners go, all four of Maryland’s primary options from last year — Jones, Octavian Smith Jr., Tai Felton and Still — are back with the team, but Locksley did say that transfer Tyrese Chambers and freshmen Ryan Manning and Braeden Wisloski will see time in that role as well.
Yet, the success of this unit still largely relies on kicker Jack Howes, an unproven redshirt sophomore stepping into the void left by Chad Ryland.