Terps Football: Spring Practice Preview
While the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament began last weekend, spring football season is nearly upon us. The Maryland Terrapins will begin their first set of spring practices under new head coach Michael Locksley on March 26th and conclude with the annual Red-White Spring Game on April 27th. The spring game will be part of the university’s larger Maryland Day celebrations, and will be followed in Maryland Stadium by both the women’s and men’s lacrosse teams’ final regular season games, both against Johns Hopkins.
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New Coach, New Routine
As was the case in 2011 and 2016, the Terrapins will enter their spring practice schedule with a new head coach. Of course Locksley isn’t nearly as new to the program as former head coaches Randy Edsall and DJ Durkin were, having served on the coaching staff in College Park for 10 years in two different stints. However as with any new regime, this coaching staff will have a different routine for their practices than in previous years.
Locksley has already announced that all spring practices will be open to the media, a stark contrast to time under Durkin. The clear goal here is to increase transparency into the program as much as possible after Jordan McNair’s tragic death during a summer conditioning activity last year.
This year’s practice schedule is also a few weeks later than in the past, with last year’s beginning on March 12th and concluding on April 22nd. Additionally the day after this year’s spring game, Under Armour is hosting their high school football camp series in Baltimore. It certainly isn’t a coincidence that Locksley would schedule the Terrapins’ final spring practice on a day where a plethora of blue-chip recruits will be in the area.
It’s hard to remember the last time Maryland entered the spring with their full arsenal of signal-callers, and it won’t be the case this year either. With 2018 starter Kasim Hill sidelined with another knee injury and new additions Josh Jackson and Lance LeGendre not set to join the team until summer, the final decision on a starting quarterback likely won’t come until fairly late in the month of August.
Tyrrell Pigrome, Max Bortenschlager, and Tyler DeSue will be the primary players behind center this spring, and Pigrome especially has a chance to set himself ahead of Jackson and LeGendre in what is expected to become a three-way competition. While it’s unclear what offensive scheme new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scottie Montgomery will be running in 2019, the spread-option style he ran at East Carolina would seem to be a perfect fit for a legitimate dual-threat like Pigrome.
New Faces on Offense
Montgomery will inherit an excellent stable of running backs, but will face a lot of turnover at the wide receiver and offensive line positions. At wideout, 2019 starters Jahrvis Davenport and Taivon Jacobs have graduated leaving true sophomore Jeshaun Jones as the only returning starter. Fortunately former interim head coach Matt Canada’s staff rotated a number of receivers last season, meaning that most of the second and even third-string players received extensive playing time in 2018.
Early favorites to start include Jones, Dontay Demus, and DJ Turner. Demus was excellent as a true freshman, averaging over 21 yards per catch. Darryl Jones and Brian Cobbs could also make an impact on the outside, and 4-star recruit Isaiah Hazel should receive immediate playing time. In the slot, Turner hasn’t yet had the breakout season many expected from him. Last season, he caught just 13 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He won’t be handed the starting job, with Tahj Capehart and Virginia Tech transfer Sean Savoy more than capable options there. New co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Joker Phillips could very well use as many as 8 or 9 wideouts this season, depending on how many are able to separate themselves during the spring and summer.
New offensive line coach John Reagan will be replacing 3 starters from last season, including both offensive tackles. With Derwin Gray and Damian Prince headed to the NFL, the line will look a lot different in 2019. Marcus Minor is the most likely option to take over the left tackle job, but the right tackle spot will likely feature a competition between a number of players. Johnny Jordan is the heir apparent at center, having played some there last season.
Big Changes in Front Six
New defensive coordinator and safeties coach Jon Hoke will be working to install his defensive system during the spring, while also finding replacements for four of last year’s starting front six. New defensive line coach Delbert Cowsette inherits just one returning starter in Adam McLean.
Both defensive end positions and one defensive tackle position will be up for grabs, and ought to feature plenty of competition this spring. Brett Kulka is the most likely option to take Byron Cowart’s strong-side defensive end spot. The JACK position (hybrid defensive end/linebacker) is wide open, with players like Bryce Brand, Tyler Baylor, and Deshawn Holt likely to form some sort of a rotation. Last season, McLean stepped up in a big way and the Terrapins are hoping that someone steps up similarly to fill the spot alongside him. Keiron Howard, Jalen Alexander, and Breyon Gaddy are among the players expected to compete for that job.
New linebackers coaches John Papuchis and Brian Williams will be forced to replace the team’s best defensive player from last season, Tre Watson. Fortunately, Ohio State transfer Keandre Jones looks ready to take over that starting weak-side linebacker job immediately.
Key Holes to Fill in Secondary
As has been the case for the past few seasons, the Terrapins’ secondary will be the strength of their defense. Hoke will coach the safeties, while Cory Robinson will serve as the team’s defensive passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach. While Marcus Lewis, RaVon Davis, and Darnell Savage, Jr. have moved on the team returns key players in Tino Ellis, Antoine Brooks, Jr., and Antwaine Richardson.
There will be two key holes to fill at the boundary cornerback and strong safety positions. A number of young cornerbacks will likely be competing for the spot vacated by Lewis and Davis, including Rayshad Lewis, Fofie Bazzie, and Vincent Flythe. Deon Jones was moved to safety by Durkin’s coaching staff, but was a highly-regarded cornerback in high school and could be added to the competition as well. Lewis played very well in 2018 and likely has the leg up on this spot.
The strong safety position vacated by Savage, Jr. is most likely to be filled by incoming 4-star recruit Nick Cross. However he won’t be arriving in College Park until the summer, so players like Jones, Raymond Boone, and Kenny Bennett will have a chance to make their mark this spring.
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]