Before Maryland football began its first day of training camp Friday, select coaches and players spoke with media to discuss the upcoming 2020 season.
Here are the three biggest takeaways ahead of a season filled with uncertainty.
The team is prepared for an unusual season
Over the last few months, there hasn’t been a lot of consistency in how teams across different conferences are operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 160,000 Americans. Head coach Mike Locksley made it quite clear that his team will be following extremely tight protocols that go beyond what most teams around the country seem to be doing.
“I’m a big believer in how do we operate based on the rules for today, and we’ve got a very clear cut, concise plan for how we need to operate to make it safe and healthy for our players and staff,” Locksley said. “A sentiment of our program is accountability, and our players are well aware and we’ve preached from day one that if one fails, we all fail.”
Anyone around the team is required to wear a facial covering of some form, whether that be a mask or a plastic shield over a mask. Additionally, players will adhere to much stricter guidelines than the Big Ten requirements outlined earlier this week, which focused mostly on testing. On the field and the sidelines, whether in a game or practice, Terps will wear a mask underneath their helmets, which are equipped with protective shields that cover the full face and stop any spit or other fluids from escaping.
Players will also have to go into the locker room in shifts. After one group showers, gets dressed and leave, the area will be sanitized before the next cluster can do the same. And for fall camp, players are staying at The Hotel instead of the typical dorms.
“I feel safe because I’m here today opting in to go out there and get ready for fall camp,” defensive back Antwaine Richardson said.” I’m just believing that the NCAA, the different conferences will find more guidelines and procedures that we have to follow, because at the end of the day...we could go out there and play football, but if the team’s not disciplined enough to follow these rules then maybe the season might get cut short. But we never know; we’re living day to day.”
There are lots of personnel changes
As we shared earlier Friday, several players are opting out of the upcoming season due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The list includes 2019 starting quarterback Josh Jackson, offensive linemen Johnny Jordan and Austin Fontaine, incoming JUCO linebacker TJ Kautai, defensive back Vincent Flythe and defensive lineman Jalen Alexander.
Tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo will also be sitting out this season with a medical issue. He’s told Testudo Times that he will undoubtedly be back for 2021.
All of these players will retain their scholarship and remain in good standing with the team, and Locksley said he completely supports their decision. However, Jackson, who came into the program last year as a grad transfer, isn’t likely to take the field again for the Terps, per his own decision. The head coach said Jackson will still finish his academic career at Maryland.
“[Those players are] still my family, I’ll still text them every day and just stay connected,” Richardson said. “I know it’s a tough time for them right now and they had their reasons why they decided to opt out. I give all my support to them.”
To combat some of these losses and even out position groups, Locksley and his staff have made a fair share of shifts.
With Okonkwo out, redshirt freshman Malik Jackson would have been the only tight end on scholarship, so defensive end Tyler Baylor and linebacker Kameron Blount are switching to the position. Blount was an all-around offensive threat in high school as a wildcat quarterback and receiver, and will certainly help the offensive side of the ball. Additionally, wide receiver Isaiah Hazel is now a defensive back.
As of now, no guys have been moved to the offensive line to make up for the loss of Jordan and Fontaine, who both figured to start this season. However, the Terps brought in eight players at the position for 2020, including one JUCO transfer and two walk-ons, along with the freshmen class. Across the entire team, many new faces are expected to come in and play a role right away.
“There’s gonna be a lot of development being done, a lot of coaching that’s needed to be done from now until we get started,” Locksley said. “Obviously with COVID, we anticipate having to use our whole roster of guys that are available to us, and we’re gonna play the guys that are here. And of course we hate to see and lose good players, but that’s part of the game.”
Though the room is thin, the quarterbacks look promising
The big question regarding the quarterback position has been clear for quite some time now; will Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa be deemed eligible by the NCAA?
The team finally got its answer Friday afternoon, and it came in the form of good news. Tagovailoa is eligible for the 2020 season.
That decision carries even more weight now, as with Jackson opting out, the Ewa Beach, Hawaii, native is one of just two scholarship quarterbacks for the Terps along with redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre. There are three walk-ons (David Foust, Eric Najarian and Josh Ettlinger), but Maryland is in quite a vulnerable position given the increased chances of injury with a less-experiencd offensive line group, as well as the risk of COVID-19.
While the room lacks depth, if Maryland gets its way, the team will boast two capable young quarterbacks that will surely make for an exciting competition for the starting spot.
As a leader of the team, running back Jake Funk didn’t want to comment on the battle, but expressed he’s looking forward to watching it unfold.
“Each and every one of them is eager,” he said. “They’re ready to learn. They’re ready to go out there and compete, and I’m excited to see who ultimately comes out on top from that battle.”
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery had lots of praise for both players, and the coaching staff and players are confident that each of the former four-star recruits possess the tools to lead the team.
After limited in-game experience in his freshman season, LeGendre made big strides this offseason. Montgomery said it’s most physical and mental growth he’s seen in a player from one season to the next.
The New Orleans, Lousiana, native gained more muscle, improved on his fundamentals, especially his passing ability, and developed a deeper understanding of the offensive playbook and schemes.
“[He has] the ability to run, throw, understand our scheme at the line of scrimmage to get us in the best football play, which is always hard for guys to do in their first year,” Montgomery said. “Now with this being his second year in coach Locks’ system, and then also his understanding of a great offseason and working hard, we expect a lot of him. But we also are coaching them all like they’re going to be able to go out and play.”
Looking at Maryland’s prized offseason pickup, Montgomery remarked how impressed he was with Tagovailoa’s “tremendous” hands that benefit an RPO offense, as well as his vision, leadership qualities and how well he slings the ball down the field. But for all physical advantages the sophomore brings, the offensive coordinator has been even more in awe of his understanding of the game and work ethic to adjust to a new team.
“He has picked up the playbook as fast as anyone that we’ve had in the program,” Montgomery said. “He has more knowledge right now than our guys did last year coming in, even with the spring under their belt. So his knowledge because he’s been in the system, but also he knows and has kind of adjusted to some of the tweaks in the system, it makes him really, really a pleasant person to have in the room.”
The second-year offensive coordinator also said that Tagovailoa, who has been on campus since June 1, brings a unique mindset, noting that he understands the need to evaluate the talent level of his teammates around him and make the right decisions to give more people the opportunity to make plays.
“He has that infectious personality that players gravitate to him. He came in with the right mentality that, I’m nobody different, I’m here just to be a member of this team,” Locksley said. “He’s assimilated really well with his new teammates. [I] had the opportunity in the last few weeks to just see how he interacts, and I know he’s made the quarterback room better.”
Editors note: This article was updated following the news regarding Tagovailoa’s waiver.