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Maryland football looks to continue its rebuild in 2020, though an unusual season looms

We kick off our 2020 season preview series with an overlook of the Terps’ program.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Testudo Times’ annual summer Maryland football preview series is back. Between now and the start of the 2020 season, we’ll be breaking down each position group with in-depth analysis on key players.

Maryland enters the second season of the Mike Locksley era under unique circumstances, to say the least. There was no spring football, only voluntary workouts are underway and whether there will or won’t be a college football season is still very much in the air. Regardless, there is a high probability that fans won’t be in attendance and the season will look drastically different.

Though last season, complete with its three wins, may not have been what Terp fans hoped for, it’s important to remember that it was just Locksley’s first year in trying to turn around a program in disarray. Since then, he’s picked up some solid pieces to help the team in 2020 and landed some of the best DMV talent for the 2021 class. Rebuilding a program takes time, and that should be kept in mind heading into this season, especially given the circumstances forced by COVID-19.

We’ll be diving into each position group, starting with the wide receivers this week. But first, let’s take a look at where the team stands and three big factors for the 2020 season.

Maryland football

Established: 1892
All-time record: 652-605-43
Championships: 1953
Last 5 years: 28-46, 14-41 Big Ten
The coach: Mike Locksley (second season)
Fall 2019: 3-9, 1-9 Big Ten

The Terps’ roster has a much different makeup

Locksley and Co. lost arguably their best two players on both offense and defense this offseason to the NFL. Safety Antoine Brooks Jr. and linebacker Keandre Jones both found new homes in the league after graduating, while running backs Anthony McFarland Jr. and Javon Leake both left college early to join the pro ranks.

Brooks led Maryland in total tackles (87), solo tackles (69) and ranked second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. Jones was first on the team in tackles for loss (15.0), sacks (7.0) and forced fumbles (3.0). He also ranked third with 74 total tackles and second with 49 solo tackles.

The duo made up 18.1 percent of the team’s total tackles last season, as well as 20.0 percent of solo tackles. With the losses of other seniors on defense, the Terps are losing 33.5 percent of their total tackle production and 35.4 percent of their solo tackle production.

Defense turnover is common and there are plenty of guys to fill those spots, even if the talent level doesn’t completely match up, but the running back situation is much more vulnerable with a huge effect on the team’s offense as a whole.

Leake was the Terps top running back and kick returner last season, leading the team 1,595 all purpose yards last season. He led all running backs and receivers with 10 total touchdowns and averaged 65.9 offensive yards per game (61.3 rushing, 4.1 receiving).

Though he dealt with an injury throughout 2019, McFarland accounted for nine touchdowns and averaged 67.3 offensive yards per game (55.8 rushing, 11.5 receiving). He was even better the year prior, recording over 1,000 rushing yards.

The duo were responsible for 133.2 yards of Maryland’s average of 343.4 offensive yards per game last season, meaning the team loses 38.8 percent of its production in that regard.

In the past, Maryland has relied heavily on a stacked running back room, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for 2020 given the departure of the team’s top two talents at the position. Only two running backs with playing experience return — Jake Funk and Tayon Fleet-Davis — in addition to two incoming freshmen. Funk is coming off his second ACL tear, while Fleet-Davis had his season cut short due to off the field issues.

And while the running back depth isn’t there, there is plenty of talent to go around in the wide receivers room.

Jeshaun Jones, DJ Turner and Dontay Demus, who have all spent time as the team’s top receiver at one point or another, all return. Five-star Rakim Jarrett, the fourth-highest ranked commit in school history, joins the fold alongside three other incoming freshmen receivers. There are also an additional six receivers with varied experience on scholarship, so it’s fair to expect Maryland’s offense to revolve a lot more around the pass game than years past.

Key players make their return to the field

Maryland lost lot of key players throughout the course last season, whether to injuries or off the field issues, but several of those Terps are set to return in 2020.

The team was hit hard by the ACL bug in 2019, losing four players to full tears. Jones, safety Antwaine Richardson and linebacker Durell Nchami were each injured in practice and didn’t see a single snap, while Funk suffered his ACL tear early in the season.

Turner and Fleet-Davis both saw their seasons end early due to off the field issues, while starting center Johnny Jordan didn’t play in the last five games as he dealt with “personal issues.”

Nchami isn’t likely to play a big role in a crowded linebacker room, but the other six should make a sizable impact.

Jones dazzled in his debut as a freshman against Texas in 2018, becoming the first true freshman to record a receiving, rushing and passing touchdown since Marcus Mariota in 2012. He only had 20 receptions and 271 yards for the season as Maryland ran a very run-heavy offense, but he impressed throughout and also managed five touchdowns. He could be a huge factor for the team after missing out on what was expected to be a monster sophomore season.

Richardson was expected to be a starter at safety in 2019 after appearing in all 12 games with 10 starts in his junior season. He ranked fifth on the team with 41 tackles that year, also adding 1.5 tackles for loss, an interception and two pass breakups. He makes his return on the field as the most experienced defensive back on Maryland’s roster and will probably start alongside Nick Cross.

Turner looked like the Terps’ top receiver through the first few games of 2019. He should see a lot of snaps, though as mentioned above, the wide receiver room has a lot of competition. Fleet-Davis had 265 yards on 63 attempts and 181 yards on 15 receptions in the 10 games he played in 2019. He’ll now look to capitalize on a much less crowded running back room than he’s had throughout his time in College Park.

Lastly, Jordan will provide much-needed experience on an offensive line that lost three starters from 2019, a season in which it struggled mightily. Several JuCo players and freshmen will add depth to the line, plus guys with some playing time return, but Jordan will undoubtedly be the leader of the room and a crucial presence in the trenches.

Lots of uncertainty remains

There are two major points of uncertainty for Maryland at the moment, and neither are in the team’s control.

First, will there even be a college football season, and if so, what will that look like? Cases of coronavirus are surging all over the country and several governors have expressed concerns over the sport being played in their states. Unlike professional sports, creating a bubble would be virtually impossible for college football, given the amount and size of teams as well as student-athletes’ daily interaction with other students.

Given how much schools and the NCAA depend on revenue from football, several ideas, such as playing in the spring or shortening the season, have been proposed, but everything seems entirely up in the air at this point.

The second unknown surrounds the team’s quarterback situation. Locksley has said in numerous interviews that he doesn’t expect transfer quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother, to be eligible for the upcoming season, though the team has applied for a waiver.

The NCAA tends to be more lenient with quarterbacks and Tagovailoa has the name recognition to possibly wave the waiver slide in his favor, but there really is no way of knowing at this point.

If he’s deemed eligible, Maryland will have three options at quarterback — Josh Jackson, Lance LeGendre and Tagovailoa.

Though he didn’t have great support from his offensive line, Jackson struggled as a starter last season. He completed just 47 percent (98-of-207) of his passes for 12 touchdowns on the year — seven of which came in the first two games — while giving up six interceptions.

At this point, Jackson has in no way locked himself in as the starter. If Tagovailoa is eligible, he seems like the more logical option, though LeGendre has a fair shot to work his way in as well. But until the team hears back from the NCAA and actually gets some time on the practice field together, the quarterback situation hangs in the balance.