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Maryland’s 11 most important players heading into the 2019 football season

First-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley said he learned from Ralph Friedgen to get his offensive playmakers on the field, regardless of position.

If that means lining up multiple tight ends to offset a lack of receivers, as happened when Locksley became the offensive coordinator under Randy Edsall in 2012, so be it. If that means lining up a running back in the slot and behind the quarterback if his team is loaded at that position, as it seems to be this season, that should happen, too.

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Locksley also said he likes to have his staff rank the members of their respective units in order of importance to give him an idea of which offensive players need more touches or more playing time, and which defensive players could make a difference in the outcome of a game. Since Locksley isn’t going to share that information with the media, here’s an assessment going into the 2019 season.

Here are the 11 most important Terps, regardless of position.

1. Josh Jackson

While Locksley has not announced his starting quarterback, the belief is the grad transfer from Virginia Tech will be under center for the opening possession against Howard on Aug. 31. Jackson won 11 of the 16 starts he made in Blacksburg, Virginia, and is the only Terps quarterback aside from injured fellow redshirt junior Max Bortenschlager to have won a game he started and finished. If he puts up numbers similar to what he did two years ago, before breaking his leg early in the 2018 season, the Terps could be one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten.

2. Anthony McFarland Jr.

It’s not shocking the redshirt sophomore running back was the only Maryland player to be listed among the top 100 in college football by ESPN recently. What is surprising is McFarland, who broke LaMont Jordan’s freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards last season, came in at No. 91. Given the depth at running back, McFarland doesn’t have to be a 30-carry-a-game workhorse. That’s not saying he can’t. McFarland will certainly be a marked man by opposing defenses, but that could work well in opening things up for Maryland’s other offensive weapons.

Maryland defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr., left, intercepts a pass attempt intended for Texas wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey, right, in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Landover, Md. Maryland won 34-29.
Maryland defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr., left, intercepts a pass attempt intended for Texas wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey, right, in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Landover, Md. Maryland won 34-29. (Patrick Semansky / AP)
3. Antoine Brooks Jr.

Ever since he showed up as a freshman three years ago, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Brooks has been more than a Swiss Army knife for the defense, playing nickel back, linebacker and safety. He has often been a one-man wrecking crew, though it’s still difficult to dominate without a supporting cast, which Brooks has not had much of as a Terp. That could change this season with the addition of linebacker transfers Shaq Smith and Keandre Jones. Coordinator Jon Hoke’s aggressive defensive scheme, which features a lot of blitzing, also plays well for Brooks.

4. Javon Leake

If there’s anyone who should be savoring the offense Locksley brought with him from Alabama, it’s the 6-0, 206-pound junior. He’s been nothing short of a touchdown machine in a very limited role his first two years, with nine scores on 43 carries. That he also will replace Ty Johnson as the team’s kick returner, where he already has a 97-yard touchdown return to his credit, could turn Leake into one of the Big Ten’s most versatile players. Leake has caught just one ball coming out of the backfield the Past two years and that is expected to change.

New Maryland linebacker Shaq Smith.
New Maryland linebacker Shaq Smith. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)
5. Shaq Smith

While he didn’t play much on defense in his two active seasons at Clemson, Smith was productive in the snaps he did get. The move from inside linebacker, where he played for the Tigers, to more of an outside linebacker should help the 6-2, 251-pound junior improve his stat line, particularly in sacks. If he and fellow transfer Jones can generate the kind of consistent pass rush that was missing ever since Jesse Aniebonam suffered a season-ending ankle injury two years ago in the opener. If that happens, it could take some pressure off what is a relatively untested defensive line.

6. Tyler Mabry

A grad transfer like Jackson and Smith, Mabry was a first-team selection in the Mid-American Conference as a junior last season at Buffalo. The 6-4, 248-pound tight end caught 27 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. He could put up better numbers in Maryland’s offense, particularly as a big target in the middle of the field and in the end zone. It’s also what he did as a blocker that made the Bulls so dangerous on offense, and Maryland’s running game will benefit from his presence.

7. Jaelyn Duncan

Locksley and offensive line coach John Reagan will put a lot of pressure on the former defensive tackle when it comes to protecting Jackson, who was sacked 22 times as a redshirt freshman two years ago and six times before breaking his leg trying to run away from pressure in the third game last season. If the 6-6, 323-pound former St. Frances star can protect Jackson’s blind side from the left tackle spot, the offense has a chance to be dynamic.

8. Keandre Jones

Like Smith, Jones didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do for Ohio State. Considering the issues the Buckeyes had against the run last year — with McFarland’s 298 yards against them leading the way — you would think he might have been given the opportunity. Either way, Jones and Smith should be able to help the Terps improve their own porous run defense as well as get to opposing quarterbacks.

9. Terrance Davis

Since starting the last nine games of his freshman year, the 6-3, 317-pound senior has been a mainstay at right guard and a major reason why McFarland, Javon Leake, Lorenzo Harrison III and Johnson have found themselves breaking off so many long runs. Davis was a bit banged up last season and also in the spring, so it’s crucial that he stay healthy this season.

Maryland defensive back Tino Ellis (7) knocks down a pass intended for Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman (13) during the third quarter at Capital One Field in College Park, Md. Maryland won, 42-13.
Maryland defensive back Tino Ellis (7) knocks down a pass intended for Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman (13) during the third quarter at Capital One Field in College Park, Md. Maryland won, 42-13. (Elizabeth Flores / TNS)
10. Tino Ellis

Once a promising wide receiver, Ellis converted to cornerback as a freshman and has grown tremendously in his first three seasons. Was voted an All-Big Ten honorable mention last season after finishing fourth in the league with 11 pass breakups. A career-high five of them came in a win over Minnesota. The next step for Ellis is to finish those plays with a few more interceptions since he only has one in his career.

11. Tyrrell Pigrome

Given the history of Maryland quarterbacks not being able to stay healthy, it’s very possible Locksley and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery will be calling on the redshirt junior for either short- or long-term help. Pigrome’s improved passing this summer has helped make it more of a competition with Jackson. And that progress certainly would help the Terps more than when Pigrome last season replaced Kasim Hill (torn ACL). Pigrome’s importance would skyrocket him to the top of this list if he winds up starting ahead of Jackson.

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