With preseason practice beginning this week, there are plenty of questions for the Maryland football team to answer.
Even before he was hired in the aftermath of Jordan McNair’s death and DJ Durkin’s firing, new coach Michael Locksley’s previous head coaching record was being questioned.
Even before he showed up after graduating from Virginia Tech in May, quarterback Josh Jackson was being hailed as a savior.
While Locksley’s coaching and Jackson’s quarterbacking will certainly be at the forefront when the 2019 season begins Aug. 31 against Howard, there are other factors in play for the Terps, who hope to turn around from last year’s 5-7 record despite most predicting it will be a continuation in a long stretch of mediocrity.
Here are five questions the Terps will begin to answer with the start of preseason practice Friday.
1. How good a staff did Locksley put together, and what impact could it have on Maryland’s season?
Most will focus on Locksley’s 3-31 head coaching record (especially the 2-26 in a little more than two years at New Mexico). But the ability of offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery to take advantage of a deep pool of talent at quarterback, running back and wide receiver could be the difference in whether Maryland is the surprise team in the Big Ten East or road (and home) kill in college football’s most top-heavy division.
So will defensive coordinator Jon Hoke’s adjustment back to the college game after spending all but one of the past 17 years in the NFL and his ability to find playmakers on that side of the ball.
Some of the position coaches should also have a big role. Since the biggest concerns will be in the trenches, offensive line coach John Reagan and defensive line coach Delbert Cowsette will also come under scrutiny for how they develop their respective units.
2. Who will be Jackson’s backup going into the season?
While Locksley hasn’t stated that Jackson, who was among the best freshman quarterbacks in the country two years ago, will be his opening-game starter, the assumption is the redshirt junior is the man to beat. The Terps have not had the same quarterback play in every game since C.J. Brown did so in 2014, so depth at that position is always part of the equation at Maryland.
However, the talent in the quarterback room is the strongest it has been in a long time, and the No. 2 job has several solid candidates.
Redshirt sophomore Tyler DeSue took advantage of Tyrrell Pigrome’s absence from the spring game because of a minor injury to put himself in the conversation. Since accuracy is a major component of what Locksley is looking for, DeSue seems a more likely backup than Pigrome, redshirt junior Max Bortenschlager and, for now, true freshman Lance LeGendre.
3. How deep will the running back rotation go beyond Anthony McFarland Jr.?
Whatever questions remained about the former DeMatha star making a full recovery from the leg injury that sidelined him as a senior in high school and led to him redshirting as a freshman were certainly answered last season. He rushed for nearly half of his freshman school-record 1,034 yards in a two-game stretch against Ohio State (298) and Indiana (210).
As good as McFarland was, Locksley has called junior Javon Leake a “1B” option behind McFarland because of what he has done in a limited role his first two seasons (408 yards and nine touchdowns on 43 carries), as well as what he showed in the spring.
Before being suspended for the last four games of his freshman year, redshirt junior Lorenzo Harrison III had established himself as the 1B option to Ty Johnson with 633 yards and five touchdowns on 88 carries.
After missing most of last season with a knee injury, Harrison is ready to resume his relationship with former DeMatha coach Elijah Brooks, now Maryland’s running backs coach. Redshirt junior Jake Funk, who is also recovered from the injuries that kept him out last season, is also ready to resume a role in the rotation. Funk’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield could be a weapon.
4. Which of the unproven defensive linemen could take a big step?
The departure of defensive end Byron Cowart, who was selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft, and outside linebacker Jesse Aniebonam, who never fully regained his explosiveness after suffering a serious ankle injury in the 2017 season-opening win at Texas, has left the Terps looking for pass rushers aside from Antoine Brooks Jr.
Senior Keiron Howard has shown steady improvement over his first three seasons and will likely play in the spot vacated by Cowart. Sophomore Durell Nchami and redshirt sophomore B’Ahmad Miller should also get a chance at Aniebonam’s hybrid position at outside linebacker.
Redshirt sophomore Lawtez Rogers, whose first career sack came against Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins Jr., or senior Oluwaseun Oluwatimi, who shared the spring’s best defensive lineman award with Rogers, could start instead of Adam McLean, who left the program in the spring for unspecified reasons. There will also be an opportunity for redshirt sophomore twin defensive tackles Breyon and Brandon Gaddy to live up to the hype they had coming out of high school.
5. Can the Terps find a punter?
Though it only seemed as if 30-something Australian Wade Lees had been in College Park forever — or at least since he was 25 — his decision to finish his much chronicled career at UCLA (it’s a little closer to his home in Melbourne) opened the door for one of two incoming preferred walk-ons to fill Wade’s cleats.
Based on the performances by the punters used in the spring game, which was impacted by swirling winds inside Maryland Stadium, it should give Colton Spangler (Chesapeake-AA) or Anthony Pecorella a shot at a starting spot and a potential scholarship.