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Five questions as Maryland football enters 2020 preseason practice

Heading into preseason practice, the Maryland football team received a bit of clarity concerning the 2020 college football season. The Big Ten on Wednesday released its 10-game, conference-only schedule, with the Terps set to begin their second season under coach Mike Locksley on Sept. 5 at Iowa.

The unveiling of the new schedule is no assurance that the season will start — or finish — on time, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to force the NCAA and its programs to adjust its operations. Several programs, including Maryland, had to pause summer workouts after reporting coronavirus cases.

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The coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of spring football, so Friday will mark the first time Locksley will be able to see his players on the practice field in months as they look to improve from a 3-9 record.

Here are five questions the Terps will begin to answer with the start of preseason practice Friday.

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1. What is Taulia Tagovailoa’s status for the 2020 season?

When Taulia Tagovailoa announced he was joining Maryland after one season at Alabama, it appeared the Terps had finally found the answer to their ever-elusive quarterback question.

But since that announcement, the former four-star recruit’s eligibility has been up in the air. While Taulia, the brother of former Alabama star and Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, played sparingly in his sole season under Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, he figures to compete for Maryland’s starting quarterback position if he receives a waiver from the NCAA.

Maryland has just two other quarterbacks on scholarship: senior Josh Jackson and redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre. Jackson had an impressive start to his Maryland career, throwing four touchdowns in the team’s season-opening rout of Howard, and eight touchdowns in the team’s first three games. But as the Terps entered their Big Ten schedule, Jackson struggled to carry his performance into conference play. He threw four touchdowns over the course of the team’s final nine games and missed two games with an ankle injury.

LeGendre, a former four-star recruit from Louisiana, showed his ability as a running threat from the position, carrying the ball 13 times for 104 yards. His ability as a pocket passer remains a question after completing just one of three passes for seven yards.

If Tagovailoa were to receive a waiver and be immediately eligible, it would be a much-needed boost to a quarterback group that has much room for improvement in 2020.

2. Who takes the lead in the running back room?

For the past few years, the running back position has been a source of strength for Maryland, with a stable of backs carrying the load for an offensive hampered by subpar quarterback play and overpowered offensive lines. But between Anthony McFarland Jr. and Javon Leake, who both left College Park for the NFL, the Terps must find answers for over 1,500 scrimmage yards last season.

The team returns two seniors in Jake Funk and Tayon Fleet-Davis. Funk is back for a fifth season after suffering his second ACL tear. His college career has been disrupted by injuries, but when he has been on the field, Funk has been an efficient runner on offense and a key special teams contributor.

After years of serving in a backup role, Fleet-Davis looks to take on a larger load in Locksley’s offense. The former three-star recruit from Potomac totaled 446 scrimmage yards on 78 touches last year but missed the team’s final two games after he was arrested and charged with recklessly driving under the influence.

The program also welcomes two freshman running backs, Peny Boone and Isaiah Jacobs, who could carve out early roles. Boone is a four-star recruit, according to the 247 Sports Composite Rankings, while Jacobs is a three-star recruit. Jacobs is also the younger brother of Oakland Raiders running back and former Alabama star Josh Jacobs.

3. Do the JUCO incomers help the offensive line?

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Since Locksley returned to Maryland to turn around the Terps, a point of emphasis has been rebuilding the team’s offensive and defensive lines, positions that have been overmatched in contests against the Big Ten’s premier teams.

In the latest recruiting class, Locksley received a pair of commits from junior college transfers who could earn starting spots. The Terps brought in Johari Branch, who most recently played at Independence Community College in Kansas, as well as Amelio Moran, who played at Lackawanna Community College in Pennsylvania.

The two, both three-star recruits, bring size and experience to a group that struggled to protect the quarterback last season. Maryland allowed 38 sacks in 2019, second most in the Big Ten.

4. Can the highly touted freshmen make an instant impact?

The crown jewel of Maryland’s 2020 recruiting class was five-star receiver Rakim Jarrett, who surprisingly flipped from LSU to commit to the Terps on National Signing Day.

Jarrett enters a wide receivers group that will be the strength of the offense this season. Fifth-year senior DJ Turner returns after redshirting last season. Redshirt sophomore Jeshaun Jones, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, looks to build on an impressive freshman season. Wideout Dontay Demus Jr. and tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo also return in their second year under Locksley.

Maryland’s second-highest rated recruit is on defense, linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II. The four-star prospect, according to the 247 Sports Composite Rankings, could see the field early at outside linebacker after the departure of Keandre Jones, who is in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.

5. Can the team continue to avoid a COVID outbreak?

Maryland football got through its voluntary football workouts this summer fairly unscathed when it comes to COVID-19. The team temporarily paused workouts after nine individuals tested positive for COVID-19 (it’s unclear whether the individuals were members of the football team) but to date, the athletic department has administered 964 tests and reported 12 positive tests.

Big Ten schools such as Rutgers and Michigan State haven’t fared as well, having to quarantine several players because of coronavirus outbreaks.

Avoiding outbreaks such as these is imperative for a young team that didn’t have the luxury of spring football and is preparing for one of the toughest schedules in college football this season. The team has eluded lengthy disruptions so far, but that will be tested in the coming weeks, especially as the University of Maryland welcomes students back to campus.

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