Maryland coach Mike Locksley said he anticipates the return of “probably 80 to 90%” of players who were previously unavailable because of a coronavirus outbreak. The Terps are scheduled to conclude their regular season against Rutgers on Saturday at noon at Maryland Stadium in College Park.
Twenty-three players tested positive for COVID-19 beginning Nov. 11, and those players sat out the Terps’ 27-11 loss at Indiana on Nov. 28. The group of absent players included four starters on offense and two more on defense.
While declining to identify the returning players, Locksley welcomed them back.
“It’s great because as I’ve said, with every game that these guys are able to participate in, those are opportunities to learn and grow and it helps us through this phase of growth that we have to grow through,” he said Tuesday afternoon during his weekly media session. “This is a necessary phase. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always easy, but it is definitely necessary. So being able to have most of our guys back and having them available to play gives us opportunities to do some things on offense, defense and special teams.”
Unlike last week when Maryland (2-2) omitted a two-deep depth chart, this week’s game notes included the depth chart. The missing starters — redshirt senior running back Jake Funk, senior center Johnny Jordan, junior right guard Marcus Minor, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, sophomore safety Nick Cross and freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still — are listed in their usual spots on the depth chart.
The only player of note missing from the depth chart that is not injury-related is junior inside linebacker Ayinde Eley. (Locksley said redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Durell Nchami was mistakenly left off the chart.)
Sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said he is eager to play with the four returning starters and freshman wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, who indicated via Twitter that he intended to play against the Scarlet Knights (2-5).
“It makes me feel good that our guys are coming back, guys that are comfortable with the system,” said Tagovailoa, the younger brother of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. “Even though Rak is young, he’s very comfortable with the system as well as Johnny. He’s a big part of our offense. He’s the center, he’s basically the quarterback for the O-line. So I think it’s going to be what we’re all used to as far as personnel and who’s in and stuff like that. I think it’s going to be a lot better.”
‘Head-butt the finish line’
After Saturday, the Terps will finish the regular season having played only five games, one game shy of the necessary requirement to contend for a berth in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19. But a chance to end the regular season with their first winning record since the 2014 squad went 7-5 before a 31-20 loss to Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl is an especially poignant motivator.
“It means everything,” sophomore defensive tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite said. “We’re trying to get a winning record around here and just change the culture around here. So it means the world, especially for someone like me who’s trying to help [Locksley] put this program back where it needs to be.”
Locksley, who has preached to the players the need to “head-butt the finish line,” said this is not the time to consider auditioning players for next season.
“I’ve always been a guy that wants to play a lot of players because in the growth phase of our program, it’s important that we develop our guys,” he said. “But let’s make sure that we understand that our goal is to put the best players on the field that have the best opportunity to give us a chance to have success. We’re never going to forgo having success to having a future.”
Locksley let his guard down
When the game against Michigan scheduled for Saturday was canceled Dec. 3 after the Wolverines suspended their season because of coronavirus concerns, Locksley knew how the players would feel. So after breaking the news at the start of practice, he continued practice while music was playing.
But he emphasized that the music was a one-time deal.
“As I like to say, the field for us is our classroom, and very few times do you walk into a lecture hall where the professor is teaching you about macroeconomics and you have [rapper] Lil Baby blasting in the background while they’re putting stuff on the board,” he deadpanned. “We’re in the business of teaching, and the field is our classroom. I used to be a play-music-at-practice guy. Then I went down to this place in Tuscaloosa [Alabama] where we went to three straight national championships, and there was no music being played, and you learn very quickly that’s a classroom, it’s a teaching environment. So until I learn or see that playing music in the middle of a teaching lecture helps with retention of information and studies come out and show that, I like to follow the footprints of success.”
Nasili-Kite said Locksley also grabbed a microphone and offered play-by-play during practice and instituted a points system with the offense pitted against the defense.
“He just made it fun so that we weren’t really thinking about the canceled game,” Nasili-Kite said. “When he played the music, it changed everybody’s moods. It helped us play hard out there.”
>>Locksley opened his news conference by expressing his sympathy for the family of Jack Scarbath, a Terps All-America quarterback and 1952 Heisman Trophy runner-up who died Sunday at 90. “On the field, Jack was a first-team All American and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, but more importantly, off the field, what a great, great man who loved the Terps and represented us proudly,” Locksley said. “I had gotten to know Jack over the years. I’ve spent 13 years here, and the entire Maryland football family has Jack’s family and friends and former teammates all in our thoughts.”
>>Locksley said senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis will make his debut Saturday, playing for the first time since Nov. 10, 2019, after getting charged with seven driving-related charges. “I’m excited to see what Fleet has to offer.”
>>Tagovailoa said he has a treat for his offensive linemen when they play well. “After every time we win a game, I buy all of them doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. “I’ve got to treat them.”
>>The team will honor seven seniors in their final home game, and three of them — safety Antwaine Richardson, Funk and Jordan — will be team captains, Locksley announced.
TV: BTN or FS1 Radio: 105.7 FM
Line: Maryland by 8