Given the number of new faces first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley hopes to play prominent roles this season, Friday’s media day served as more of a meet-and-greet than in recent years.
One player in particular — quarterback Josh Jackson — seemed to be getting most of the attention.
Jackson, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech whose three-year stint in Blacksburg, Va., started with a breakout redshirt freshman season in 2017 and ended when he broke his left leg in the third game last fall, is the presumptive starter for the Aug. 31 opener against Howard.
The son of former longtime Michigan assistant coach Fred Jackson, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound redshirt junior learned growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., that a team’s depth chart can change during preseason camp and he should take nothing for granted.
“It’s a full competition. Everybody’s going to have a chance,” Jackson said Friday, standing in front of the Gossett Team House auditorium. “I’ve competed many times. So I’m just going to try to be the best I can. Hopefully that means I get to be on the field.”
Locksley is hoping the competition that evolves can help a program that has struggled to get any consistent production from its quarterbacks since 2014. That year, Locksley was the offensive coordinator and then-senior C.J. Brown led the Terps to a 4-4 conference record in their inaugural Big Ten season.
It was also the last time Maryland, which finished 7-6 overall, had a winning record.
Jackson will be competing with two players who’ve started games at Maryland — redshirt junior quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome and redshirt junior Max Bortenschlager — as well as improving redshirt sophomore Tyler DeSue, who was voted the outstanding player in the Red-White spring game, and true freshman Lance LeGendre.
“I feel this group is a very competitive group,” Locksley said Friday. “We all know what Piggy has done, and what he has meant and done for this program. He is a competitor. Max has had some opportunities here ... and we know from the spring what Tyler DeSue brings to the table. I’m really encouraged by the position group ... and I know they’re excited by the competition.”
Said sophomore wide receiver Jeshaun Jones: “Three guys have started at the Division I level. There’s not too many [teams] that are like that in the country, I think I feel like it’s only making us all better, because you’ve got somebody always that knows what they’re doing and that’s really good at all times. Even the young guys.”
Jackson’s experience and success with the Hokies could give him the edge.
Before getting hurt last season, Jackson had completed 272 of 454 passes (59.9 percent) for 3,566 yards, with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed 144 times for 385 yards and seven touchdowns. Most significantly, he led the Hokies to an 11-5 record as a starter, including 9-4 in 2017.
Asked how being sidelined for most of last season affected him, Jackson said, “It definitely makes you appreciate the game more. It’s definitely upsetting to go out with an injury, but it definitely makes you appreciate it. You get to learn a little bit about yourself, but it was a good life lesson for me.”
The need for depth at the position is a must at Maryland, considering the fate that seems to befall most who have played quarterback recently. It hasn’t been easy even though the Terps haven’t had the same kind of injury bug that bit in 2012, when Locksley, then in his first year back as offensive coordinator, was forced to finish the season with converted linebacker Shawn Petty.
Every quarterback the Terps have used to start a season since Brown in 2014 has missed games, and Pigrome tore his ACL in the season opener against Texas in 2017. Bortenschlager started eight games after touted freshman Kasim Hill was sidelined with the first of his two torn ACLs two weeks after Pigrome went down.
Pigrome took over for Hill for the final three games last season after Hill tore his ACL again, nearly leading the Terps to a road win in relief at Indiana. The following week, Pigrome helped Maryland to the brink of a monumental upset of No. 10 Ohio State in College Park, when a failed 2-point conversion pass in overtime left Maryland with a 52-51 loss.
"I’m just using that Ohio State game as a motivator,” Pigrome said during the spring. “Coming up short like that, I told myself and I told a couple of teammates, ‘We can’t come up short like that no more.’ Against a good team like that, we’ve just got to bang it out and come out with a win.”
The dark horse in this competition appears to be DeSue. Since completing 23 of 35 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns during the Red-White game in late April, DeSue has continued to show during 7-on-7 drills this summer that he won’t accept the backup role without a battle.
“I feel like he’s just more comfortable,” Jones said. “I don’t know if he was a little nervous last year, but it’s like night and day.”
Pigrome said in the spring that the competition among the quarterbacks — before Jackson’s arrival in early June — was strong but supportive.
“Competing in a good way, we’re positive with each other,” he said. “Trying to do better than one another but also trying to help each other out.”
New offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, who also serves as the team’s quarterbacks coach, said Friday that all the quarterbacks will get a chance to show their comfort level with the first team over the next few weeks. He said the plan is to equally distribute the reps during preseason practice “until the person that really shows that they are going to rise a little bit more ... we’re going to try to. That doesn’t mean it always happens.”
While Friday was his first official practice, Jackson began familiarizing himself with the offense shortly after he announced his intentions to transfer in mid-February.
Even as he was finishing his undergraduate studies in Blacksburg in the spring, he was studying the Maryland playbook, watching film of the offense Locksley ran at Alabama and even found time to attend a few practices.
“It’s a process,” Jackson said Friday. “You have your 7-on-7s during the summer. I think we put in a certain amount of days of install; I know those. We’re going to go back over that. I think I know it pretty well.”
Though he had yet to step on the field until Friday, Jackson has already made an impression on Montgomery.
“The first thing it takes is a certain level of maturity,” Montgomery said. “Anytime you come into a room with basically 100 new people that are slightly ahead of you, you have to really put in the work that you need. He’s done that.