Maryland football will hold its first of five open practices Monday afternoon. The team has been working out and lifting on and off all semester, but now resumes actual football drills for the first time since last season ended in November.
Between today and April 14, when spring practice concludes with the Terps’ annual Red-White spring game, newcomers, returners and veterans will battle to catch their coaches’ attention heading into summer workouts. Here are five things to watch between today and the end of spring practice.
1. The running back rotation
Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison, Jake Funk, Javon Leake, Anthony McFarland, Tayon Fleet-Davis. Oh my.
All of last year’s running backs return for this year. The Terps were frequently explosive against equal or inferior competition, but struggled to get anything going against better opponents who could afford to stack the box with eight or nine defenders. It remains to be seen exactly how Maryland’s offense will change under Matt Canada, but he’ll take on the task of finding a way to get all those backs carries.
2. The defensive line
It’s no secret that it was bad last season. After Jesse Aniebonam went down in Week 1, the Terps were forced to play linemen in places they normally wouldn’t, the pass rush was virtually nonexistent and the run defense wasn’t much better. That said, Maryland is set for a much-needed talent influx this year.
Aniebonam is back, former No. 3 overall recruit Byron Cowart transferred into the program, 2017 signees Cam Spence and Breyon and Brandon Gaddy are coming off of redshirt seasons, as are Lawtez Rogers and B’Ahmad Miller. Former four-star defensive tackle Adam McLean started to come on at the end of last season. All in all, the Terps are looking like they’re about to get bigger, stronger and more talented for 2018.
3. The early enrollees and other newcomers
Ten new Terps won’t have to wait until the summer to start practicing with their new teammates. Two others sat out last season and enter a situation where they can make an immediate impact. Freshmen Vincent Flythe, Tyler DeSue, Chigoziem Okonkwo, Jordan Mosley, Jeshaun Jones, Durell Nchami and Jalen Alexander and winter transfers Cowart, Tré Watson and TJ Bradley are all here before the rest of the signing class of 2018 and will have a leg up come summer time.
Rayshad Lewis and Marcus Lewis (no relation) each announced their transfers to Maryland before last season and spent 2017 on the sideline, per NCAA rules. Rayshad was a standout receiver at Utah State in 2016, while Marcus was a local blue-chip recruit who, thanks to some injuries, got stuck behind a loaded depth chart full of defensive backs at Florida State.
4. Key returning seniors
Every good team has a mix of old and young talent, but every great team has outstanding senior leadership. In Aniebonam, Johnson, Darnell Savage, Damian Prince, Derwin Gray, Sean Christie, Brendan Moore and Taivon Jacobs, Maryland has returning veterans at key positions. Prince, Gray, Christie and Moore are four of the Terps’ five returning starters on the offensive line, while Jacobs is by far the most productive returning receiver with D.J. Moore’s 80 catches, eight touchdowns and 1,033 yards off to the NFL.
5. The receiving corps
Maryland quarterbacks targeted Moore on 43.6 percent of their throws last season. Jacobs earned the second-most targets with 28.2 percent. No other receiver was targeted more than 7.7 percent of the time. Luckily for the Terps, while they didn’t contribute much offensively last season, there are plenty of capable receivers on the roster to help fill what the team loses in Moore. DJ Turner, Jahrvis Davenport, Tahj Capehart and Lewis are all leading candidates to step up.