Maryland football is back.
The Terps are strapping up their helmets again for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic cut the 2020 season short, beginning preparations for what’s expected to be a full 12-game slate set to begin on Sept. 4 against West Virginia.
Head coach Mike Locksley has 15 sessions at his disposal over the next five weeks — practices that he didn’t have at this time last year due to the pandemic. Maryland has that amount of time to acclimate new players and coaches ahead of its Red-White Spring Game on April 24, a much-needed exhibition after only playing five games last season.
With Locksley and select players and coaching staffers speaking to the media for the first time in months on Tuesday, here’s what we learned:
- The only thing changing between the Locksley-Enos-Tagovailoa connection is the quarterback’s first name. Enos, Maryland’s new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, was Alabama’s associate head coach and quarterbacks coach alongside Locksley in 2018, where he helped boost Tua Tagovailoa to one of the most explosive seasons in college football history. Now paired with Locksley again and Tua’s younger brother, Taulia, much of the terminology and blueprint for success will track back to the trio’s previous stop.
“The terminology and some of the familiar words that even [Taulia] himself was used to from what I had done before, going back to some of that terminology,” Locksley said of integrating Enos. “I think will make it easier for all three of us, as well as our offense.”
- New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has wasted no time making an impression on the locker room. Returning to the position he held with the team from 2012-2014, Stewart acknowledges that a lot has changed since his previous stint, but still feels right at home with the players.
“I first like seen Coach Stewart, I kind of felt like he was like a cool dude,” junior linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay said. “He was so like, friendly and walking around, just having a normal conversation with you not like just talking about football when he first see you. Like getting to know who you are, where you’re from, and stuff like that. So that really impressed me.”
- Locksley’s goals for the spring are simple: find out who the playmakers are and who the leaders are. Maryland lost several players, on both sides of the ball, following the conclusion of last season, both to graduation and to the transfer portal. But regardless of who is or isn’t here from a season ago, the slate has been completely wiped clean ahead of the 2021 season.
“Each year we turn the page on a season. Last year is the past, and so we begin a new chapter for Maryland football with each season,” Locksley said. “And that’s exactly what the start of spring allows us to do, is we start identifying playmakers and leaders that we feel will be the people that help us have the type of season we want to have.”
- It’s coming up on a year since Tagovailoa announced that his transfer to the Terps — and what a year it has been. With sky-high expectations attached to the name on the back of his jersey, Tagovailoa showed flashes of brilliance in his debut season in College Park, throwing for 1,011 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in four games. Looking back on everything that’s happened in a tumultuous first season as a starter, there’s one area that Tagovailoa thinks he has improved the most.
“Maturity,” Tagovailoa said. “Being the quarterback, it’s a lot of things going on, but you always gotta keep your head focused and be in the right state of mind. So, you know, there’s a lot of things that maybe I did give attention to before, but now you know, it’s, I can’t really give attention to it. So that comes with a lot of maturity and experience.”
- Tight ends could play a big role in Maryland’s offense next season. The Terps relied almost exclusively on their wide receivers and running backs to carry the load in the receiving department, with redshirt freshman Malik Jackson being the lone player at the position to record a catch last season. But with Corey Dyches moving down from receiver, early enrollees Weston Wolfe and CJ Dippre joining the fold, and the star of position group in Chigoziem Okonkwo, Enos is much more optimistic as to what the position can contribute.
“Tight ends are super important to any offense,” Enos said. “We, you ask them to do a lot of things, they got to be able to be involved in the run game, they got to be able to be involved in the pass game and be very versatile in both those areas ... So we ask a lot out of them and [Okonkwo] is a guy that is got everybody very excited.”
- Locksley provided some health updates as several players are nursing different injuries this spring. According to Locksley, Rakim Jarrett and Jakorian Bennett each had wrist surgery, and have been limited to non-contact practice. Peny Boone and Frankie Burgess underwent shoulder surgeries this offseason, and have been working out with the team but are still limited to non-contact.
“I feel like we’re really in a good place, health-wise,” Locksley said. “We’ll see kind of how these guys move and operate this spring and will continue to work to get better.”
We’ll continue to receive weekly updates from Locksley and the players as spring camp wears on. Just how much changes between now and that Spring Game on April 24 should be interesting to see based on what was said today.