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How Alabama's offense might look at Maryland under Michael Locksley

In the lead-up to Alabama’s matchup against Notre Dame in College Football Playoff semifinals, Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he expected his offensive coordinator (and new Maryland coach) Michael Locksley to bring the team’s high-scoring offense with him to College Park.

If that’s true, a question begs to be asked.

Do the Terps have enough talent to run the same kind — or a reasonable facsimile — of the offense Locksley used in Tuscaloosa, Ala., this season? Of course Maryland doesn’t have nearly the star power as the Crimson Tide, which set school records for yards and points. But that doesn’t mean Locksley will have to start from scratch.

While Alabama’s offense came to a near-standstill after a fast start to Monday’s 44-16 CFP championship game loss to Clemson, Maryland fans should be excited about what they saw from Locksley’s play-calling this season.

Here’s a look at which Terps might fill those roles in 2019.

Quarterback

This is by far the biggest question mark — and potential quandary — for Locksley and whomever he hires as his offensive coordinator.

Though both redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and junior Max Bortenschlager pulled their names from the NCAA transfer portal after talking with Locksley, it doesn’t mean either will be taking the first snap in the season opener against Howard.

There’s been lot of speculation surrounding Alabama junior Jalen Hurts joining Locksley at Maryland — along with possibly co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Josh Gattis, whose name has been raised as a potential candidate for Terps offensive coordinator.

Hurts, who led the Crimson Tide to the national championship game as a freshman and sophomore before losing his job to Tagovailoa, will be immediately eligible to play as a graduate transfer.

The one problem is that several other schools are also being mentioned, and all of them are higher profile and more successful than the Terps.

If Hurts winds up coming to Maryland, it might show just how convincing a recruiter Locksley can be. Still, it remains a long shot, with programs such as Texas A&M, Houston (Hurts’ hometown school), Miami and Oklahoma also expected to take runs at him.

Of the healthy quarterbacks currently at Maryland, neither Pigrome nor Bortenschlager appear to be a perfect fit for Locksley’s offense.

Pigrome looked good running Walt Bell’s offense before tearing his ACL in the 2017 season-opening win at Texas, but was erratic when given the chance to run Matt Canada’s offense in 2018. Bortenschlager made Bell’s offense one-dimensional after replacing then-freshman Kasim Hill in 2017.

Hill might be the best option for Locksley’s offense, but his availability for much of the 2019 season remains in doubt unless he makes a miraculous recovery from his second torn ACL, suffered in a Nov. 10 loss at Indiana.

The other possibility is Tyler DeSue, who only played a handful of snaps as a freshman. DeSue ran an offense with run-pass-option tendencies in high school.

Even if Hurts goes elsewhere, look for Locksley to explore the graduate transfer pool before settling on one of the quarterbacks already at Maryland.

Wildcat quarterback

Based on how often Alabama lined up this season with running back Josh Jacobs in a shotgun formation behind center — especially in short-yardage situations — it’s easy to envision Locksley doing the same when he gets to Maryland.

Based on the pecking order at running back when the Maryland season ended, one of two sophomores — Javon Leake or Tayon Fleet-Davis — would seem like the best fit to fill that role as juniors in 2019.

Leake is more of a playmaker, based on the fact that he has scored nine touchdowns and has averaged nearly 12 yards over his 32 career carries.

But Fleet-Davis was used by Canada as his short-yardage and goal-line running back, even ahead of Anthony McFarland Jr. at times.

At 5 feet 11 and 226 pounds, Fleet-Davis is bigger than the 5-10, 216-pound Jacobs and heavier than the 6-0, 210-pound Leake. But he has been productive in a backup role the past two seasons.

Running back

After rushing 29 times for 210 yards against Indiana and nearly breaking LaMont Jordan’s single-game school record with 298 yards on 21 carries against Ohio State, McFarland clearly established himself as Maryland’s featured back and is more than capable of carrying much of the load next season.

Though the graduation of Ty Johnson will thin out the team's deepest position, the return of Lorenzo Harrison III for what will likely be his redshirt junior year after missing most of 2018 with a knee injury will give the Terps another option under former DeMatha coach Elijah Brooks, Maryland’s new running backs coach.

Brooks rotated Harrison and McFarland when they played together at DeMatha, especially in 2015 when McFarland, then a junior, started to emerge as one of the top running backs in the country. Harrison, too, pulled his name out of the transfer portal, an indication that Brooks has assured him of a role in the offense.

Given that Locksley often rotated his two top backs at Alabama this season — Damien Harris carried the ball 150 times to 117 for Najee Harris — it seems likely that he would do the same for a while at Maryland. That is, unless McFarland picks up where he left off against the Buckeyes and separates himself from Harrison and the others in the running backs room.

While the Terps are losing full-time starters Damian Prince, Derwin Gray and Brendan Moore from the offensive line, they should have enough from those returning and those Locksley could add — most prominently Alabama’s Richie Petitbon as a potential grad transfer — to keep the running game toward the top of the Big Ten.

Wide receivers

One of the bright spots toward the end of the 2018 season for Maryland was the emergence of several young receivers, most notably Jeshaun Jones and Dontay Demus.

After his historic debut against Texas, when he played a part in three quick touchdowns on his first three touches as a college player, Jones disappeared for much of his freshman year.

But over the last few games, both Jones and Demus, as well as fellow freshman Darryl Jones, showed the ability to get open downfield as well as make some tough catches.

Jerry Jeudy’s stats jumped dramatically from his freshman season to his sophomore year at Alabama, and he wound up winning the 2018 Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wideout after catching 68 passes for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Henry Ruggs III didn’t make as dramatic a leap as Jeudy, but he was a solid No. 2 receiver for the Crimson Tide. Then there was freshman Jaylen Waddle, whose 45 catches and seven touchdowns ranked third on the team, but whose 18.8-yard average was second.

Locksley has the receivers to make Maryland's passing offense a lot more potent than it was last season, but finding a quarterback who can get the ball downfield is a must for them and the offense to reach their potential.

Tight end

Considering how little Canada and Bell involved Maryland’s tight ends the past three seasons, any plays called will be a plus going forward.

It was shocking how little Bell and Canada used their tight ends for anything more than blocking.

After Avery Edwards caught 14 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2015 — but only four for 12 yards when Locksley was Maryland‘s interim coach the last six games — Edwards and Derrick Hayward combined for four catches and 40 yards and a touchdown (by Hayward) in 2016.

There were no receptions by a Maryland tight end in 2017, and Canada used Edwards and freshman Chigoziem Okonkwo only sparingly in 2018. At 6-2 and 235 pounds, Okonkwo has the size and speed to be the kind of weapon Irv Smith Jr. was at Alabama this season, when the 6-4, 241-pound junior caught 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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