Terps Football: Spring Game Preview
The Maryland Terrapins are set to wrap up their first spring under new head football coach Michael Locksley on Saturday afternoon with the annual Red-White Spring Game. The game will kick off an entire day of festivities at Maryland Stadium, with both the women’s and men’s lacrosse teams playing their final regular season games against Johns Hopkins later on. As a whole this spring has been fairly uneventful, likely a welcome change for the program after the tragedy of last year’s offseason. Let’s break down a few of the things to watch for when the Terrapins take the field this weekend.
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With an entirely new coaching staff comes brand new offensive and defensive schemes. Scottie Montgomery is Locksley’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and has been working to install the offensive playbook the Terrapins will be using in 2019. According to Locksley, it’s essentially the same scheme that he ran last year at Alabama. That offense was one of the best that head coach Nick Saban has ever had in Tuscaloosa, led by dynamic young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. While Locksley won’t be calling plays on gameday, he’ll be heavily involved on the offensive side of the ball in the weeks leading up to games.
While spring games typically don’t show a whole lot schematically with coaches preferring to keep everything as secretive as possible, it can give an idea of the types of formations and base plays the team wants to run. I’ll be watching for how much the coaching staff uses the pistol formation, as that’s primarily what the Crimson Tide used last year. I’ll also be watching the tempo, with Montgomery expected to ramp it up at times to keep opposing defenses on their heels.
Jon Hoke is Locksley’s defensive coordinator and safeties coach, coming to College Park after 3 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While there was a bit of uncertainty as to what defensive scheme he would run in College Park, all signs point to a base 3-4 system. The Terrapins haven’t run a 3-4 since the 2014 season, though with most teams basing out of their nickel formation things can sometimes get a bit muddled. For that reason, I’ll be watching what Hoke’s nickel package looks like schematically. Typically base 3-4 teams will either run a 2-4-5 or a 3-3-5 nickel scheme, so it’ll be interesting to see how Hoke uses his personnel with 3 or more receivers on the field.
I’ve been covering Maryland football for Baltimore Sports and Life for nearly 7 years, and it’s very likely that one of my “things to watch for” during each spring game during that time has been the quarterbacks. However it’s no less relevant now than it has been in every past season. The Terrapins currently have 3 healthy scholarship quarterbacks participating in spring practice: Max Bortenschlager, Tyler DeSue, and Tyrrell Pigrome. Donny Sanders was added as a walk-on, and Josh Jackson and Lance LeGendre will be arriving in the summer. Pigrome is the clear starter in camp, and will receive every chance to show that on Saturday afternoon. This spring has been his opportunity to impress the coaching staff and get a leg up on Jackson and LeGendre before they arrive.
Not only will I be watching Pigrome and how well he seems to grasp this new offensive scheme, I’ll also be watching the former 4-star recruit DeSue to see how he’s progressed during his second full offseason with the team. He seemed very overwhelmed in the limited playing time he received last season, but ought to be able to play with a lot more confidence this year. He’ll need that progression to avoid getting buried on the depth chart.
New Offensive Units
While most of the attention for Maryland’s offense will be put on the immensely talented stable of running backs (and rightly so), I’ll be watching the wide receiver and offensive line groups to see how they’re filling a number of open spots this offseason. At wideout, Jeshaun Jones is the lone returning starter as a true sophomore. On the outside, returning players like Dontay Demus and Darryl Jones will compete with a talented new addition in Isaiah Hazel. And in the slot, DJ Turner will have to fend off competition from Tahj Capehart and freshman Dino Tomlin.
Along the offensive line, the Terrapins will be replacing both of their tackles and their center. Jaelyn Duncan and Marcus Minor seem to be the favorites to start outside, but ongoing competition with players like Austin Fontaine and Tyran Hunt will be something to watch for. At center, Johnny Jordan would seem like the obvious choice but Ellis McKennie will be competing for time there and elsewhere along the interior of the line.
New Defensive Units
Defensively, I’ll be watching how the Terrapins are adjusting to their new 3-4 defensive scheme and what impact that has on who is able to step up to fill some of the holes that exist this offseason. With both of the team’s defensive ends graduating after last year, some of the young pass-rushers on the roster will have an opportunity to make an impact on Saturday afternoon. Bryce Brand and Tyler Baylor return with experience, and younger players like Deshawn Holt will provide additional competition.
Similarly at inside linebacker we’ll get our first look at Ohio State graduate transfer Keandre Jones, who the coaching staff has been raving about throughout spring practice. While his waiver to play immediately hasn’t yet been granted by the NCAA, he would step into a starting job immediately. With presumed starter Isaiah Davis sidelined with an injury, we’ll get a chance to see some of the younger inside linebackers competing for playing time.
Finally, there are a few things to watch for when the Terrapins’ special teams units are on the field. With Wade Lees graduated, the team will have a new punter for the first time in a few years. Anthony Pecorella will be joining the team this summer as a true freshman, but Bentley Faulkner would seem to be the top option currently on the roster.
Additionally with the departure of Ty Johnson, Maryland will need to find new kickoff and punt returners. Javon Leake actually led the team in kickoff returns last season and will likely be given the first crack at that job in 2019. Expect Jeshaun Jones, Rayshad Lewis, and Sean Savoy to be among those competing for the punt returner position which was held by Taivon Jacobs in 2018.
Zack is a financial analyst for a defense contractor in Washington, DC. The Owings Mills native focuses most of his efforts on Maryland Football recruiting and individual coach and player pieces; but also covers Terps Basketball. He has established relationships with Big Ten beat reporters across the conference, which he utilizes in his game previews. Now a Sr. Terps Analyst for BSL, Zack can be reached at: [email protected]