By Harry Allison
Enthusiasm for Maryland football had to take a redshirt season last year.
The tragic death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair at a team workout cast a long shadow all season.
Third-year coach DJ Durkin (above) was suspended and ultimately dismissed; medical practices were scrutinized and revamped; and a local son — Mike Locksley — has been brought home to restore trust in the Terrapin brand.
Locksley — yes, yes, his career record as a head coach is 3-31 — quickly proved to be the right man for the job. Now with a little Nick Saban magic coaching dust sprinkled on him after three years at Alabama, he assembled a completely new staff, salvaged the 2019 recruiting class and has said and done all the right things. Even McNair’s father showed up at Locksley’s introductory press conference in the sparkling new Cole Field House indoor practice facility to offer support.
But what is “normal” for the Terrapins? Is it the combined eight-year record of 38–61 under Durkin and Randy Edsall (and interims Matt Canada and Locksley), or is it the seven-bowl glory of Ralph Friedgen’s 10 seasons, when Locksley was also an assistant?
“I have a vision, a picture in my mind of what it felt like and what it looked like when we [won under Friedgen] as a team,” says Locksley, who recruited many prominent locals to College Park. “I know it can be done again.”
A lot of players from the talent-rich “DMV” (Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia) will be in the red, black and gold this fall for Locksley. Many of those top Terrapins are skilled players on offense.
Running back Anthony McFarland Jr. set a school freshman record with 1,034 yards and averaged 7.9 yards per carry. He had back-to-back 200-yard rushing games (against Indiana and Ohio State) and was a big play waiting to happen for an offense that averaged 230.2 yards rushing per game, 17th best in the nation.
The emphasis will change a bit under the new staff. Plus, there’s likely a new opening-day quarterback for the fourth straight season, with Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson enrolled this summer.
The 6’1″ Jackson is a more prototypical QB than diminutive incumbent Tyrrell Pigrome, though “Piggy” had a great spring before Jackson arrived. Jackson twice won the starting job for the Hokies and put up a Tech freshman-record 2,991 yards and 20 touchdowns passing in 2017. He started three games last season but was injured after throwing for 575 yards. Over his Hokie career, Jackson was 11–5 as a starter, completing 59.9 percent of his throws with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
He’ll have some talented targets in Jeshaun Jones, Dontay Demus and DJ Turner. Buffalo transfer Tyler Mabry should step in at tight end, and Locksley loves two-tight end formations, so hybrid Chigoziem Okonkwo will still see lots of duty.
Lorenzo “LoLo” Harrison, Javon Leake and short-yardage specialist Tayon Fleet-Davis add great depth in the backfield. Terrance Davis and Sean Christie are solid returnees up front, and redshirt freshman tackle Jaelyn Duncan looks like a comer. Former East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery likely will call the plays.
Things get a little dicier on a defense that returns just three starters from a unit that gave up 390.4 yards and 28.7 points per game. With some injuries, there were hardly enough bodies to fill out a depth chart in the spring.
Jordan Mosley began practices as an undersized linebacker, then moved to strong safety after veteran Antwaine Richardson went down with a season-ending knee injury. Mosley finally landed at free safety. Don’t be surprised if redshirt freshman Raymond Boone and four-star prospect Nick Cross get a lot of playing time.
One constant is All-Big Ten nickel back Antoine Brooks Jr., who led the Terps with 9.5 tackles for a loss and will be the de facto fourth linebacker in coordinator Jon Hoke’s 3-4. Corner Tino Ellis started every game and was sixth in the conference in passes defended. Fellow senior Marcus Lewis has experience at the other corner.
Ohio State transfer Keandre Jones fills a big hole at linebacker if he gets his hardship waiver, but the front seven is undersized and not very experienced. Senior Keiron Howard is a key cog on the interior with Adam McLean transferring, but it could be a revolving door at end.
Joseph Petrino hit 12-of-14 field goal attempts as a freshman, including the first 11 of his career. Punter Wade Lees transferred, leaving another roster hole that will be filled by a walk-on freshman. Leake and Jeshaun Jones are proven commodities in the return game.
It took D.C. native and Towson grad Locksley a long time to land his dream job, and it’s going to take more time to rebuild. The spring ended with the presumptive QB still not on campus and depth issues on the offensive line. It’s even more dire on defense, where Maryland seems undermanned up front and in the linebacker corps. The Big Ten has been unforgiving, particularly the East Division. Locksley’s legendary recruiting prowess is a timely answer, but this process will take time.
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