Third-year Maryland head coach Mike Locksley has spent a lot of time rebuilding the framework of what he believes can finally be a successful program in College Park. He has some insider information: Locksley was a key part of Ralph Friedgen's staff in the late '90s when the "Fridge" chilled out locals with a decade of winning football.
And the big offseason story at Maryland, other than another banner recruiting class for Locks & Co., was some notable changes on the coaching staff. Former Cincinnati assistant and offensive guru Dan Enos is the new offensive coordinator; Brian Stewart begins a second tour of duty with the Terps as defensive boss; veteran's veteran Ron Zook takes over the special teams; and former NFL assistant Brian Braswell inherits an offensive line loaded with potential.
"The thing I've learned … with (Alabama) Coach (Nick) Saban is that the philosophy never changed of what we did on offense," says Locksley of his time with the Tide. "You could add to it, you can bring in some new things, but who we are on offense, defense and special teams has not and will not change."
Locksley does believe it will improve. Dramatically.
Previewing Maryland's Offense for 2021
The offense could be set to take off under Enos, and more accurately under quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was third in the Big Ten with 252.8 passing yards per game and third in completion percentage at 61.5, and the Terps put up 45 and 35 points in back-to-back wins over Minnesota and Penn State when he threw for 676 yards and six scores and ran for two more.
Enos hopes to add more play-action and screens to Tagovailoa's repertoire, and he has a lot of skilled help around him. Dontay Demus Jr. is a big target already with 10 career receiving touchdowns; he averaged 15 yards per catch last season. Rakim Jarrett became the first Terp true freshman with over 100 receiving yards and two scores in a game since Stefon Diggs in 2012. Brian Cobbs and Jeshaun Jones are also experienced, reliable receivers.
Versatile Tayon Fleet-Davis — a running, catching and blocking weapon — is primed for his best season at running back.
Malik Jackson is a prototype tight end, and veteran Chigoziem Okonkwo is back after missing last season. All-Big Ten honorable mention pick Jaelyn Duncan is the next big thing at tackle. Johari Branch was a juco revelation. The versatile Austin Fontaine plays just about anywhere and everywhere in the middle. Ditto Spencer Anderson outside.
Previewing Maryland's Defense for 2021
Tagovailoa had to score a lot of points to win games. The Terps gave up 32 points and 430 yards per game, figures that ranked 10th and 11th, respectively, in the Big Ten. Maryland had the second-worst rushing defense (230 yards allowed). You don't have to study analytics to know that's not exactly a formula for success. And the lack of a spring practice in 2020 certainly hurt a program like Maryland, which is starting nearly from scratch on defense, more than others.
Now Stewart has six starters back on defense and a secondary that will be of primary concern for opponents. The pass defense allowed just six aerial scores, 200 yards per game and a 56.4 completion percentage. Free safety Nick Cross was All-Big Ten honorable mention, and he's always around the ball and making plays. He projects as one of the top safeties in the college game this fall. Jordan Mosley was solid at the other safety but could get a push from hard-hitting Osita Smith, a prize in last year's recruiting haul and an Antoine Brooks play-alike. The Terps also have a load of rangy cornerbacks in Tarheeb Still, who was all-conference as a true freshman, along with Deonte Banks, veteran Jakorian Bennett and utilityman Lavonte Gater.
The pass rush should be improved with the return of "Jack" end Durell Nchami, who was lost to a leg injury last year, plus contributions from last year's transfer haul of Mosiah Nasili-Kite, Ami Finau and Joseph Boletepeli. Stewart is counting on more big plays out of his edge rushers, including linebackers Fa'Najae Gotay, the team's hardest hitter; budding star Ruben Hyppolite II; and four-star freshman Demeioun Robinson. Impact freshmen Branden Jennings and five-star Terrence Lewis may be too good to sit, too. The hope is that Lewis, a Miami native, can return successfully from an ACL injury.
Previewing Maryland's Specialists for 2021
Kicker Joseph Petrino didn't miss any PATs and was 4-of-7 on field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder. Both punters — one to kick from each hashmark — are back. Anthony Pecorella and Colton Spangler combined to post a 39.7-yard net. Maryland was last in punt returns and next to last in kickoff returns, so Zook has work to do for the units he calls "wefense."
Locksley has been amassing talent, always one of his specialties. The Terps look more talented and deeper than they have in a long time. How does that translate in the unforgiving Big Ten East? Tagovailoa makes good things happen and has weapons and a veteran line. Defensively, the front seven has to prove it can hold up on the ground and rush the passer. Enter all the veteran coaches. They may just help the Turtles come out of their shell this year.
National Ranking: 57
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(Taulia Tagovailoa photo by Greg Fiume/Maryland Athletics)