6 offseason priorities for Maryland in 2021
Maryland created quite a buzz with a 2-1 start led by big-name transfer QB Taulia Tagovailoa, only to have COVID wipe out its momentum and 4 scheduled games. Yet even after 2020 fizzled to a dissatisfying 2-3 finish, the outlook remains rosy for Mike Locksley’s upstart program.
Here are 6 priorities for this offseason to keep the vibes positive in College Park:
Taulia Tagovailoa takes the next step
Tagovailoa shook off a terrible 1st start at Maryland in which he finished with 94 passing yards and 3 interceptions against Northwestern. Tagovailoa bounced back to finish ranked third in passing yards per game (252.8) and fourth in completion percentage (. 615) in the B1G.
Tagovailoa combined for 676 yards and 6 touchdowns in Maryland’s victories. Without a reliable backup quarterback, it’s essential that Tagovailoa is healthy and productive. Maryland lost to Rutgers in Week 8 when Tagovailoa was unable to play.
This season, Tagovailoa validated his decision to leave behind his brother’s shadow at Alabama and chart his own legacy at Maryland. Tagovailoa’s second season at Maryland will need to be even stronger to continue on that arc and help the program return to relevancy.
Replacing Jake Funk in the running game
The fifth-year senior declined the option to return to Maryland for a sixth season and will instead declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Funk was a driving force in the Maryland offense as he earned third-team all-Big Ten honors. Funk had the highest yards per carry average in the B1G (8.6) and finished second in the conference in yards per game (129.0).
Funk’s resurgence was one of the best stories in the B1G. Funk was coming off a torn ACL in his left knee that impacted his 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Maryland will need to develop a new rushing attack consisting of rising sophomores Peny Boone and Isaiah Jacobs. Last season, Boone and Jacobs combined for 147 yards and no touchdowns on 38 carries. The duo must at least be serviceable to keep defenses from loading up against Tagovailoa and the passing game.
Plugging up the rushing defense
The Maryland rushing defense struggled mightily in the limited sample size of 2020. Maryland allowed 14 touchdowns and a conference-high 230 yards per game on the ground.
Maryland will return an experienced cast of linebackers anchored by rising senior Chance Campbell. Campbell amassed 42 tackles and 1.5 sacks this season. A strong senior season by Campbell will be a key component in the Maryland rushing defense not being porous again.
Building on promising pass defense
The Maryland pass defense demonstrated solid lockdown capabilities. Maryland ranked third in the B1G in passing yards per game allowed (200.0) and opponents’ completion percentage (. 564).
Overall, Maryland only allowed 6 passing touchdowns in its 5 games.
Rising junior safety Nick Cross and rising sophomore cornerback Tarheeb Still are a pair of dynamic pieces that will need to elevate themselves in order for the Maryland secondary to thrive even further. Cross tallied 23 tackles, a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble this season. Meanwhile, Still recorded 20 tackles.
If the Maryland pass defense can carry over its success into 2021, the likelihood of a winning record in a full season is greatly increased.
Getting talented freshman class acclimated
Maryland landed an impressive recruiting haul for 2021. Maryland’s group ranks 18th nationally and fourth in the B1G, according to 247Sports.
All 5 of Maryland’s commits who are 4-star prospects or higher come on the defensive side. Maryland recently earned a commitment from 5-star prospect Terrence Lewis, the nation’s top-ranked linebacker according to 247Sports.
Maryland’s staff will need to develop this promising group of newcomers to supplement the returning roster and provide the necessary depth for the team. While it’s never a certainty what you’ll get from freshmen, any production and contributions would be a massive boost.
Continued commitment to mental health
Maryland coach Mike Locksley is respected by his players not just for his football acumen but more importantly for the way he treats them as men. Locksley has engaged his players through encouraging open communication and a willingness to speak up about mental health issues, according to the Testudo Times.
“Anything I can do as far as my part as the leader of an organization of 18 to 22-year-olds that may have or may be dealing with issues and mental health issues, I owe it to our program and our players to provide the best resources available to help them be the best version of themselves,” Locksley said to the Times. “The mental health of our players [is] at the first and foremost of our thoughts.”
It’s extremely commendable that Locksley understands the significance of being supportive of his players on a deep and substantial emotional level. This dignified perspective and mindset must continue to be at the forefront of the Maryland program. The Maryland coaching staff needs to keep the lines of communication open and embed this into the fabric of the locker room culture so that any incoming players with mental health issues don’t feel stigmatized.